I hate roller coasters. More, even, than I hate escalators, airplanes, and boats (okay, maybe not as much as I hate boats).
Emotionally, getting ready to study abroad has already been a roller coaster. While I was busy with school, I’d think “Yay! Let’s get there already!” one morning and “What am I thinking?!?!” the next. If only I would have known that the roller coaster was just winding up for the first big drop—I might have tried to enjoy it a little bit! As finals approached, the language aspect started kicking in. One morning I was congratulating myself on how far I had progressed in French; the next, my lack of adequate vocabulary for daily situations hit me full in the face and had me moping around the house for the rest of the day. Still, the roller coaster hadn’t tipped over the first hill.
Last week, after months of searching for a host family, I finally got in touch with a church in Lausanne. In great generosity, they made an announcement about me at their worship service on Sunday, and two individuals and a family all offered me a home for next year! My excitement was tangible—I have brothers and sisters halfway around the globe who are willing to share their lives with me, and they haven’t even met me yet!
On such a high, I decided to use my Monday morning to tackle the remaining items on my visa application. After three stops to get passport photos, records from the bank, and other such errands, I finally had the application finished. I was thrilled! What an accomplishment: one day a host family, the next a finished visa application! Then I re-checked the bank statements. The teller had done them wrong. To my genuine amazement, this tipped the roller coaster down its first hill, rocketing me to one of the lowest lows I’ve experienced in this whole process.
It’s such a silly thing, right? I can go back to the bank today and have the statements reprinted. But it’s also the first moment I can say I was truly aware that I’m going abroad next year. A whole mess of emotions hit me in one moment of realization: this year is going to be hard. I didn’t want to admit that to myself until finals were over, but now I can acknowledge that living in another country—no matter how beautiful, clean, efficient, and welcoming—is going to be really hard.
Yet it’s the hard things that always make me grow. Only just recently did I realize how much I need to be uncomfortable. There doesn’t seem to be a better way of putting it; I really do need to be uncomfortable in order to grow. I chose to start my university studies at Union College, a Seventh Day Adventist school. Am I Adventist? No. Did I know anything about Adventism? No. After learning about it, do I agree with Adventism? No. I was a complete minority as far as my faith was concerned, but I chose Union anyway. My second semester there, I voluntarily involved myself with the annual play. Why? Because I liked acting, talking, and singing in public? (The answer at the time, for those of you who didn’t know me, was a resounding “no!”). In my third semester at Union, I got too comfortable. I desperately needed a change, so I transferred to Nebraska Wesleyan University. I’ve never met so many people who visibly draw back when I tell them I was homeschooled all the way through high school (it’s okay, I’ve checked with the doctors: no rabies or distemper here!). Now, at the end of my third semester at Wesleyan, I’m getting that restless feeling again. I’m too comfortable; my growth is stalling. So . . . why not take a huge leap this time?
I’m going to spend a year in a country where the majority speak a language I don’t even know how to say “How are you?” in (German). I’m going to live in a region where the majority speak a language I’ve only studied at university level for a little over a year (French). Those are simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating facts. Here’s the best part: next year, I’m going to live with someone whom I haven’t even met yet, and whom I will only have met via Skype before she picks me up at the airport. Doesn’t that blow your mind?! I can talk with someone face to face because of technology—and I can talk with her in French. Sure, it won’t be the most polished or natural conversation, but the fact that it can happen at all is astounding, especially when I remind myself that three years ago I thought I was going to be an animal behaviorist. I’m so thankful for the ways I’ve grown since then, and I know I will only continue to grow closer to the image of my Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The roller coaster will keep rolling. Packing, goodbyes, culture shock, fear, insecurity, language barriers . . . but there will be far more beautiful moments of growth, of trust, of love, of learning, of faith.
This is going to be exciting!