Finding a Belonging through the Semester Abroad Program by Student Nat Mercer

As students begin to experience life on their own after high school and away from their parents it can be challenging to find a place of belonging and true acceptance. Grace Christian University is a unique campus because of the intentionality of staff and faculty to connect with students where they are and as such a unique close-knit community quickly forms. When talking with current and former students, constant reiteration and recognition is the obvious reality of the many authentic and quality relationships that grow and flourish on our campus. Grace is a great place for young adults to get their feet wet in the adult world while still having the assurance that there is constant support waiting for them on campus.

I have been incredibly blessed to be able to participate in numerous short-term study abroad trips including spending two weeks in both Ireland and Israel. Both of these trips I took for class credit and was able to continue working towards my degree while experiencing the unique history and culture of these places with a team of students and staff. After visiting Belize on our Spring Break trip in 2019 I knew immediately that I was meant to return to the country for a longer period of time but was unsure of what it meant to be away from my familiar setting of the Grace campus and the stability and normality my regular daily schedule offered. Making the decision to study abroad for a semester was easy for me because my heart already belonged in long term ministry and I love the thrill of the unknown experiences that come with travel.

Living in a foreign country for four months brought a unique set of challenges that I had never faced before. There was an obvious and immediate culture shock between the Western worldview that I inherited and the more simplistic nature and outlook of Belize. I learned the difference between the necessities of life and the comforts of the modern world. As Americans, we often take some things for granted without putting any additional thought or consideration into them simply because we've never had to make some of the choices that Belizeans think about on a daily basis. I spent time reevaluating my life's priorities as I talked through my future plans and dreams with people I shared experiential similarities with, but who offered unique perspectives on our role as members of the Church and our Christian faith in general.

Doing life together with the greater body of Christ opened my eyes to the reality of God's sovereignty and how he uses people from different walks of life to love and serve the world. My perspective of ministry changed from activities taking place in a church facility or done intentionality by believers; to seeing life as our ministry and the power that community, relationships, and accountability has to change lives and build the kingdom of God. Being in Belize allowed me the opportunity to exercise the skills I learned in the classroom as well as expand on the concepts of faith, love, and service while working with real people in real-time through real relationships. My semester abroad was a time of incredible challenge and growth that was centered on discovering my identity as a child of God and my purpose as His servant, all while loving and being loved on by newfound family and friends.

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