Care for Your Study Abroad Students
As a campus staff member, you probably have many students study abroad. Maybe some grow astoundingly; maybe others fall away from their faith. But having students who study abroad doesn’t need to be a cause for concern. In your role, you regularly call students into risky spaces in order to grow, and a semester abroad is a powerful catalyst for student growth. Your students have the opportunity to see new parts of the world through God’s eyes and boldly share his love with the people they meet. They can return to campus with a fresh perspective on God’s kingdom and renewed fervor for sharing the good news. With your help, your students can not only survive spiritually during their semester abroad, but thrive and contribute to God’s work in the world.
Prepare Your Students
Any cross-cultural experience begins with orientation. Most of us have used the Approaching Differences diagram to help students encounter and process a cross-cultural experience well, perhaps for a mission trip or evangelistic outreach. But when it comes to studying abroad, students are rather under-prepared for what they will encounter overseas. Their college’s mandatory meetings are mostly about financial details, travel, school policies, safety, and academic information.
As staff, you have a unique gift to offer a student preparing to go abroad: vision, prayer, and blessing for following Jesus into new places. Whether it is connecting over coffee or setting up a Saturday afternoon study abroad orientation for a group, we want to offer you some resources to help your students prepare to thrive spiritually while abroad.
Keep in Touch with Your Students
The relational and discipleship investment you have made in your students does not have to hit pause while they spend a semester overseas. InterVarsity students who study abroad usually enter one of their most vulnerable, challenging, and transformative semesters of their college years. Keeping strong relationships with staff and chapter members back home is often a spiritual lifeline.
With today’s technology, supporting students across continents is even easier: Skype, Google Hangout, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and other methods can help you stay in touch with your students while they are abroad. Just a little intentionality on your part can make an exponential difference in a student’s semester abroad, encouraging them spiritually and leveraging their experience for missions.
Help Your Students Return
Returning to one’s home culture after an intense experience abroad is not easy or intuitive for most people. Debriefing is part of the discipleship cycle for a reason: reflecting on a study abroad experience helps students apply what they learned and experienced overseas. In the busyness and chaos of returning to the U.S. and campus life, one of the best gifts you can give your study abroad students is to support and challenge them as they reflect on their experience. Good re-entry takes time—often many weeks or months. We want to help you walk alongside your students who return from study abroad, helping them discern what God is doing in them and how to respond in faith back on their home campus.
Downloadable resources for preparing, staying connected with, and debriefing your students coming soon.