1. Tell us about where you went and your reasons for going.
Heather: I spent two years during college studying in Germany. When I was in high school I attended a Church youth camp in Germany and absolutely loved it and decided then that I would go back.
Erika: My whole infatuation with France began when I was 15 and had a French student stay with me for three weeks. Fortunately we got on rather well and I went to visit her the next summer. After that I took several more trips and decided that I would really like to live there and learn more about the language and the culture.
2. I presume you both attended services while you were there. Were the congregations in Europe much different from those here?
Erika: After attending church with just a family of five [in France], I can really appreciate how good I have it here. Before I left I felt bad that there are not any young people my age in my area. However, I am blessed to be part of a large congregation here. While I still lament the fact that there aren’t really people my age in my area, I now see more opportunities. There are a vast number of God’s people that I can learn from!
3. Did this make it a challenge to live God’s way while you were there?
Heather: Yes. It’s a challenge to live God’s way wherever you are, but moving somewhere to experience a different culture makes it a bit more challenging, I think, because you’re there expressly to try new things and it’s therefore easier to let your guard down.
Erika: I agree. However, I found that a big reason was because I was away from home. I had always lived with my parents before this. It is difficult to follow God’s way no matter where you are. It is also a good idea to take advantage of the grounding factors in our life, such as parents and friends in the Church. Due to the lack of a real church near where I lived, I didn’t have anyone nearby that could hold me accountable.
4. How do you think knowing God’s truth helped you? Did it make a difference?
Heather: Absolutely. God’s truth is the standard by which to live life, and if you work within those laws, it makes all the difference in the world. Life just works that way.
Erika: Knowing God’s truth gave me somewhere to turn when times got rough. I never felt totally alone or abandoned. Knowing God’s ways also gave me strict guidelines to follow and allowed me to see the faults with Satan’s way of doing things.
5. What lessons did you learn?
Heather: Choose friends wisely. God will fight your battles if you ask Him to. Family and friends are important; don’t take them for granted. James 4:7 James 4:7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
American King James Version×really works. If you hate someone but are even the slightest bit willing to change, God will take away the hatred for you. God can and will protect you wherever you are in the world. God is there for you whenever you need Him. God’s love is awesome.
Erika: I think I learned more in my one year abroad than in my entire life. That probably sounds exaggerated, but that is sure the way it felt! I learned how to deal with many different types of people. I also learned how to explain my religion and my beliefs. In addition, I learned to take this time to really reflect on what I believe independent of my parents. This had been very important to me before I left. I felt that it would be a great test to put myself where there wasn’t any support and see if I could make it. Needless to say, one important lesson that I learned is that life is hard enough without me putting myself in compromising situations as a test!
Also, I think that God took this time to start showing me who I really am (Jeremiah 33:3 Jeremiah 33:3Call to me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you know not.
American King James Version×). I think that I had felt like an overall good person, that I just had a few things to tweak and if I could just take care of those I would be in good shape. As I began to work through those faults I started to realize the many, many other things that I would need to work on. I began to see the never-ending, yet always rewarding, process of constant improvement.
6. Is there anything that you appreciate more now that you are back home?
Heather: There wasn’t a lot I missed from the States while I was in Germany, but I must say I appreciate my family and friends a whole lot more now that I’m back. I just never realized how important they were in my life until they weren’t there.
Erika: It’s the same with me. Towards the end of my stay overseas I really began to miss them. This led me to realize all of the things that I like and admire about them.
7. Did your experience help you learn more about God?
Heather: Most definitely. For the first time in my life I felt truly alone. My family and friends were an ocean away, I was in a new environment, and I didn’t know a single person. This made me rely on God even more, especially before I made some close friends. And I learned many things from the brethren there I’ve never seen a more close-knit group that exemplified God’s love than those people.
Erika: I learned a lot more about God from the experience. He became more real as a Father because He could see everything and was there. I became more reliant on Him. However, I did not learn as much about Him as I would have liked and it wasn’t until I returned home and really took my experiences and lessons to heart that I began to understand Him better.
8. What was your biggest struggle?
Heather: Hmm … I would have to say learning to forgive and not hate. There was an incident that caused me for the first time in my life to hate someone which I found to be not at all pleasant and presented Satan with an open door. So I quickly took the issue to God, who helped me work through it.
I don’t mean to make light of the matter, because it took a long time and a lot of effort to work through, but it is truly amazing how God can change your heart even if you want to change only a little bit. And I was able to put into practice a piece of advice I had heard in a sermon years ago if you want to change your attitude about a certain person, pray FOR (not about) the person for 30 consecutive days. It was a struggle (and the first time I said a prayer with clenched teeth!), but somehow I made myself do it because I knew the hatred had to go somewhere and I didn’t want it to destroy me. I don’t even want to think about where I’d be today without God’s help in changing my heart.
Erika: I know that before I left I thought that I would go away and learn all sorts of things and really become absorbed in God’s ways. Instead, I left and tried to test the boundaries a bit. I still think I learned several valuable lessons, one of which was that I am not so good as I had thought! I began to understand the concept of God looking at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7 1 Samuel 16:7But the LORD said to Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.
American King James Version×) versus everything we do on the outside. In addition, there is a lot to the concept of “what would you do if you knew no one was watching?” Of course, this is not really applicable because God always is.
9. What were some blessings that you can thank God for?
Heather: The more I think about it, the more blessings I find God blesses us in so many ways every day and we need only stop and look for them. One of the first things that comes to mind is God’s protection. I seem to have a knack for blundering my way into precarious situations, yet God rescued me from every one of them. Another great blessing was the church family it’s a great thing about the Church of God you can go many places in the world and have family. They taught me a lot about unity, enthusiasm for God’s truth and God’s unconditional love.
Erika: Being protected was also a major blessing for me. I found myself in some scary experiences but came through virtually unscathed. That was definitely God’s doing. Another thing was that God blessed me with some amazing friends. Even though they didn’t share my religious beliefs, they helped me to stick to my values.
10. Do you see your experience as a stepping-stone spiritually or careerwise?
Heather: Spiritually I think God can teach us what we need to know no matter where we are in the world. I am able to use my experiences at my current job, though, as I’m teaching high school German. I don’t think I would have gotten the job without it.
Erika: I think that it was a stepping-stone spiritually because of what I learned. Careerwise I am not sure yet how I will use it. However, for me personally, it only served to make me want to go again and to see many other unique parts of the globe!
11. How does this apply to those who are not interested in study abroad or similar experiences?
Erika: The closest thing I can think of that would come close to this is when young people leave home and head off to college. I think they deal with many of these issues at that time. Most of the major lessons I learned were not because I was in a foreign country. Rather, they stemmed from my want to see what the world is all about something I hadn’t done before since I had lived with my parents. VT