I was raised in a Christian household, but during my first two years of college I had fallen away from my faith quite a bit. Upon leaving for my semester in South Africa, I had no intention of getting involved in a faith community abroad. However, upon arriving at my study abroad destination, I began to question my purpose in being there, and therefore started to dig deeper into the faith and values that had been instilled in me as a child. It was during this time that I was invited to a college group that was connected to a local church in the area. At first I was a little nervous about going, but soon after arriving I discovered that I had found my home away from home. From then on, those friendships became my rock during my semester abroad. Not only were they incredible people, but they encouraged me to dig deeper in my faith and to ask hard questions. Their support and encouragement was monumental to my growth as both an individual and as a person of faith.
My involvement in the local church ended up being the biggest highlight of my time abroad. I grew astronomically in my faith, made incredible friendships, and got plugged into an incredible and supportive community. In addition, I had the opportunity see and experience a different cultural expression of my own faith. This was especially neat to see in South Africa, a country historically divided by race and racism. I found that, on the college campus, social groups continued to be divided on the basis of race. In the church, however, people of all different races and backgrounds would interact, mingle, and worship with one another. This communicated the power of faith and reconciliation in a way that I had not experienced in the United States.
Additionally, through my college group and church involvement, I made tons of local friends that I still keep in contact with today. These relationships have been such a blessing, and they have also opened doors that I could not have imagined prior to my time in South Africa. Upon arriving back in the United States I helped start a relating church in Denver (who knew that could happen?!), and then traveled back to South Africa the following summer to go on a mission trip to Zimbabwe with my South African church. On this trip, all I had to worry about was my flight – I had friends to stay with for the whole three weeks!
Though I had not anticipated getting involved in a church community or growing in my faith while I was abroad, I am so thankful that it worked out that way. Getting outside of my comfort zone pushed me to ask tough questions, spend time in reflection, and to explore different expressions of the faith that I had grown up with. Don’t be afraid to check out different faith communities while you are abroad! Explore different expressions of your own faith, or a check out a different faith group all-together. Your time abroad offers a unique opportunity to deepen your own beliefs or to explore new ones. Try and be open to the beliefs of the culture that you’re a part of; it can teach you a lot about the local people. And, who knows? You may just learn something about yourself.
Christina Hunter, DUSA staff