“Guess what, I’m going to Scotland!” one of my students yelled at me across the lawn as they ran to show me the letter. She had just received her acceptance for the May study abroad program. Our campus, like so many, pours a lot of money, resources, and encouragement into our students studying abroad while in school. In fact, on our campus, one in four graduating seniors from our university has studied abroad. I have noticed a rise in the number of BCM students taking advantage of studying abroad, and we currently have ten students who are preparing for summer abroad programs around the world. I am a big believer in study abroad and encourage it with my students. I think there is such value in students experiencing other cultures, connecting with peers, all while getting school credit.
One of the things I am learning is how to equip my students for making the most of their experiences. We do an excellent job of training and providing for our students who go on mission trips, so I am in the process of taking that and transferring it to equipping students to be missional while studying abroad.
Here are some things that we have found helpful:
- Invest in the people around you.
Making the most of every opportunity is important. Most of the time you will be with people who do not share the same faith or views as you. Studying abroad is a fantastic chance for you to live out your faith and talk about your faith to students you will still have connections to when you go back to campus. You will live, study, travel, and play with a group of peers you may or may not know. Take time to invest in those relationships and get to know them. Do not shy away from your faith or being who you are as a Jesus-follower.
- Be present.
It is important to be present where you are and not try to stay connected back home all the time. We encourage you to set boundaries with your social media, talking with family and friends back home, and being on your phone. Have conversations with people before you leave about when you will post, text, and talk. It is essential to be able to be present with the people you are with, the classes you are taking, and enjoy the experience. Steward the time and experience.
- Engage with culture.
Most students will be experiencing a very different culture from theirs for the first time, and it will be different. So, soak it all up—seize every opportunity. Travel, eat different foods, meet locals, learn, and remember that there is no good or bad culture—just different cultures.
Stay connected to Jesus. It will be essential for you to pray and spend time with the Lord—mainly because you are not going with like-minded people to intentionally share the gospel. You should share the gospel with people, you should pray over places and people as you go, you should do a daily quiet time, and you should live a life worthy of the gospel. It is good to get an accountability group who will encourage you while you are gone and pray that the Lord brings you another believer on the trip or at your partnership university.
- Look for ways to serve or connect with a missionary or local church.
If you are going somewhere longer than a couple of weeks, it is worth talking to your campus minister about connecting to the International Mission Board for help with finding a local church or missionary. Studying abroad is a great way to serve and build community while you are in another culture.
Give them resources about what they will experience, they will get info from the program on culture, etc., but provide them with information on religions, ways to share their faith, and how to pray for those around them.
If students are staying longer than a couple of weeks, connect them to a local church or missionary. The International Mission Board is a great resource to help. This is a great way to help them be part of missions while furthering their education.
- Raise awareness.
Help them understand spiritual awareness—that they are not guaranteed living or being around believers. So, help them understand how to see spiritual warfare and see the big picture.
- Support them.
While they are on their trip, send them messages and let them know you are praying for them. When they get back, spend some time debriefing them.
- Commission them.
Send them out as missionaries to study abroad and for using this as a way to continue doing missions when they come back home.
Studying abroad is a great way to help teach our students to take their current campus mission field overseas and bring it back. It is an excellent way for them to connect with students, get college credit, get funds to pay for it, and connect with missions opportunities overseas.
Sarah Farley is a campus minister at the University of Georgia. She loves talking about Jesus, SEC football, eating burgers, and drinking coffee with students.