Heather Mitchell - Costa Rica

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Why should I study abroad?
Why not?! First of all, there will be very few opportunities to travel like this later in your life… generally jobs and little kids are not conducive to satisfying your wander lust. And though it may seem that it is expensive to study abroad, I have found that you get an amazing experience that would be way more expensive if you did not go through a program. Later in life, it will be even more difficult to find the funds to travel, whether or not you believe that!

Beyond finances and time… in college we are still at a point in our lives where we are being shaped and changed. Our opinions and passions, goals and dreams are still taking shape. It is wonderful to have your perspective and passions stretched while you still have so many opportunities and decisions lying before you in life. This is an experience that can change the course of the rest of your life: your decisions for higher education, careers, and spouses. It is a wonderful thing to understand these things while you still have so many opportunities to make choices that include the things that you learn from leaving in another country… later in life, when your path is more set in stone it is difficult to change the course of your life.

What was the best part of your semester abroad?
The best part of the semester was living with different families all through Latin America. This is the best way to be immersed in the culture, and in my experience it was an amazing refuge and support in the middle of a challenging semester. The best relationships that I formed were with all of my families, and now I have home in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama and Guatemala. That is an amazing thing to think about!

What was the most challenging part of being off-campus for the semester?
Having my faith challenged … no picked up and bashed against several brick walls. Everything, with no exaggeration, that is foundational in my faith was powerfully challenged and refuted during this semester. And in the midst of this challenge I had very little access to previous spiritual mentors and sources of truth and wisdom. I did have my Bible and some books, and these were life lines during my time there. This placed an emotional, psychological and spiritual strain on the semester on top of all the other adjustments and changes.

On top of this, seeing the reality of the brokenness of this world was difficult and breathtakingly painful.

These things may sound frightening. You may be thinking: Why would I subject myself to something like that? Is it worth it? It is worth in. I would do it again. I believe that the Lord uses the times that we are being bashed around to make us realize our utter dependence upon Him, to help us understand His purpose in this world and to shape us for His purpose. During my time there, I had this quote on my wall and I believe it is true:

"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome"

- Anne Bradstreet.

Being faced with bitter winds of challenge and getting slapped in the face with strong salty waves of pain is worth it. It is necessary for growth.

What do you miss most from your time away?
I miss my family the most. They were amazing people and I love living with them. I also miss the language desperately… it is beautiful to hear people expressing themselves in another language and there are some phrases in Spanish that capture a feeling or a reality with more force than any English phrase or word. I also miss the simplicity of life there. I am overwhelmed by all of the options and choices we have here, all of our rush and bustle. It was nice to just sit and let time wash over you, rather than trampling all over time as we do here.

What did you learn about yourself while abroad?
A lot … and I am still trying to figure out everything that I learned. One thing I learned about myself is that I can live a simple life and still be happy. I also learned that I do live an amazingly privileged life. I learned that I do need Christian brothers and sisters around me to encourage me in my faith, I do not do well walking alone.

What was the best thing that you learned?
That the world is broken and that we cannot fix it on our own. Jesus came to redeem and heal and fix. We cannot do these things with our own logic or our own power, but we do need to, as Christians, work to redeem the broken things in our lives through Christ working in us. It is sad to see this brokenness, but that makes our Savior and Healer that much more glorious and beautiful

Though humans may be drastically different in many cultures, we are all made in the image of God and fundamentally we are not that different. We all need love. Our God is a god of love and we need to show that love to everyone we encounter.

What is the most important thing to take with you?
Your Bible.