Are you about to embark on a study abroad adventure? Studying abroad can be a life-changing opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture and stretch yourself beyond your limits. With God’s grace, it can also be an opportunity to go deeper in your faith than ever before.
I have been living abroad for the past two years. I have studied abroad in four countries. Here are 12 tips I wish I had known before I moved away:
1. Stay Accountable: Keep in Touch with Friends at Home
If you’re currently in a Bible study or discipleship, put times on the calendar for video calls with friends before your trip. Ask them to keep you accountable to a regular prayer and Mass schedule.
2. Study Abroad Doesn’t Mean a Vacation from Virtue
Because the drinking age in most foreign countries is lower than in the United States, American students often unfortunately have the reputation for being party animals. Being in a foreign country is not an excuse for living without morals. Do enjoy trying local beverages in a moderate way; I recommend always drinking with food.
3. Explore the Local Catholic History
Studying abroad is an incredible opportunity to be inspired by the universal Church, and being Catholic adds an entirely new dynamic to studying abroad. When learning about your new home, research its history from the point of view of the Church. Find out how Catholicism first spread to that part of the world, and research the local patron saints and their feast days.
4. Share Your Faith!
Invite your non-Catholic classmates to Mass with you, or even start your own Bible study. It is amazing how open people are to new things when living in a foreign country, and their separation from home could be exactly what they need to let the Holy Spirit work in their lives.
If you want to feel like you’re really living somewhere instead of just being on a long-term vacation, I encourage you to volunteer. Serving is one of the best ways to experience a new culture. Look up the Missionaries of Charity or another Catholic apostolate, and ask when and how you can help.
6. Download the Magnificat to Get Mass Readings and Daily Meditations in English
For an entire semester I went to daily Mass in Czech in the Czech Republic, and I speak no Czech! Reading the Mass readings during Mass helped me know what was going on and to pray with everyone else.
7. Look for a Local English-Speaking Catholic Community and Get Involved
Most cities in the world have a parish specifically dedicated to English speakers living in that country. When I lived in Prague and Krakow, for instance, I would regularly attend Mass at the English-speaking church; and I even joined their choirs. It was a great way to make friends with people from all over the world and to stay connected to a parish community.
8. Go to Confession at Least Monthly — And Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Priests if They Speak English
Don’t let the language barrier keep you from going to regular confession! Many priests around the world speak English; and if they don’t, they likely know a priest who does speak English.
9. Make Friends!
I have made some life-long friends while studying abroad by simply going to daily Mass and talking to the locals afterwards. Ask around if they have activities or retreats for young adults or college students.
10. Lonely? Find the Adoration Chapel
Even though studying abroad is amazing, it is bound to come with struggles; there will be moments of isolation and loneliness even if you are good at making new friends. Look for a perpetual adoration chapel where you can bring your loneliness to Jesus. If there isn’t adoration where you are, go to the local church and pray in front of the tabernacle
11. Be Aware: Mass Time Websites are Helpful but Not 100% Reliable
I cannot tell you how many times I have tried going to Mass because it was listed online, only to show up at an empty, locked church. When you arrive to your new home, take a walk around the city and visit the local Catholic churches to inquire about their current mass times.
12. Don’t Expect Your Faith to Be Exactly the Same as It Was at Home
If you are involved with a thriving Newman center and have FOCUS missionaries on your campus, this might be a hard adjustment. The good news is that the Church is universal, so if you are adaptable and persevere, studying abroad does not have to mean a vacation from your faith.