How to Make the Most of Studying Abroad - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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Study Abroad
November 4, 2015

How to Make the Most of Studying Abroad

This is not a “Top 10” list of Western Europe destinations for study abroad students; nor is this a piece on how to fit 20 pounds of souvenirs into your checked bag for the flight home. For anyone who hopes to someday study abroad, this is for you so that you can make the most of your experience before you even leave American soil.

As a “Type A” personality, when I found out that I’d be studying abroad in Rome, Italy, through Geneva in the fall of 2014, I was determined to have the entire semester planned out before we left the Pittsburgh Airport. I studied Italian rigorously all summer using the free program DuoLingo. I read up on every relevant European travel blog I could find on Pinterest. I planned a group trip to Budapest, Hungary. for late November way back in early June. I watched European airline prices like some people watch the stock market. So yes, you could say that I certainly was intent on making the most of my semester abroad.

For me, the notion of relinquishing control of my daily life by living in a foreign country prompted me to at least pretend I still had control by over-planning every conceivable aspect of my three months abroad. I reasoned that if I knew how to navigate the Parisian metro or speak decent Italian, the newness and uncertainty of studying abroad would be less intimidating.

But what I neglected to do, in all my efforts to plan the perfect semester in Rome, was to surrender all control to God in the process.

What I learned in Rome—very quickly, at that—is that spontaneity often makes for fonder memories than meticulously pre-planned outings when you are abroad. More importantly, I learned that if you allow him to, the Lord will open your heart to so much more than you could ever anticipate on a travel bucket list. He will grace you with opportunities to love when you encounter cultural differences; He will give you life-changing, chance encounters with people on a leisurely walk to catch the metro for dinner; and He will take away your sense of comfort and familiarity in order to illustrate the sheer beauty of His diverse creation.

For those of you planning or even contemplating a semester abroad—even before you choose your destination—pray for The Lord to change you. As I experienced, having Him truly change your heart—and dare I say, worldview—thousands of miles from home can be a scary thing; but it is so very rewarding. Throughout the three months I spent in Europe, I visited seven countries and over 13 cities; and in each of them, the most beautiful memories came from unplanned experiences.

To make the most of your study abroad experience, as cliché as this advice is, go with an open mind. More importantly, go in with an open heart that is willing to veer off course so that God can work in you. If He can work so miraculously in your life here, just imagine the wonders that await you halfway across the world.

Happy travelling.

–Leah Daigle ’16

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