There is little to be said about semester study abroad programs that hasn’t been said before. Yes, it’s life changing. Yes, it introduces you to cultures and places and people that you never thought of before. Yes, it grows your heart to stretch across the world and find its home in another place that, before then, was foreign to you. Yes, it is glamorous, fun, adventure-filled, exciting, and monumental…. sometimes.And then sometimes… it’s not, and what you don’t hear about often are those moments that don’t fit in an Instagram-sized frame. Those are the not-so-glamorous moments, like the lonely holidays or the nights in a drafty room in a strange family’s home. Like the tears after Skype calls or the sick days spent alone. Those moments, too, are often part of studying abroad.
For me, those moments connected me to God in new and challenging ways. Leaving warm, inviting Wheaties for cold, aloof Parisians was daunting. I was nobody - suddenly starting from square one with every person I met and, to add insult to injury, I was an American trying desperately to learn a language from people who didn’t want to teach it to me. Although I was grateful to have a kind host family, they were a far cry from my loving parents, siblings, teachers, and friends. I felt alone and afraid, but as I cried out for Him, God met me in my loneliness.
Because God was, for a brief time, truly all I had for a companion, we talked a lot. I found that, without the welcome distractions of friends, family, and comrades, I could hear him more clearly, because I was really listening. I was counting on Him in new ways, and He came through time and time again. When I was ill, He healed me. When I was lonely, He brought me community. When I was sad, He comforted me. When I was scared, He protected me. I was acutely aware of His presence in my life, largely because I was more attune to Him in Paris than I am in the comfort of Wheaton, where it’s not hard to see Him in the every day of the faces and lives of His followers, who are my peers and professors.
Those not-so-glamorous moments? The ones that I didn’t share on Facebook or that didn’t make my Snapchat story? They are some of my most cherished souvenirs from my semester study abroad program, because they grew me and challenged me in my faith. I found God in Paris, just as one could find Him anywhere, and He was the greatest travel companion I could have hoped for — plus, it turns out He speaks French, too.