Why Students Should Still Study Abroad

 

Why Students Should Still Study Abroad

Since the academic year started, both beheadings from militant groups and the coverage of Ebola have gone viral. This week, shootings in Paris covered the airwaves. Concerned parents want to know if their son or daughter will get a disease or if life outside the United States is safe. Judging solely by the cable news outlets, one would remain almost paranoid as one crisis after another seems to get around-the-clock coverage.

 

Yet, nearly 300,000 U.S. students will study abroad in a given year and that is still a good thing. And yes, students should still consider study abroad and there are many reasons, but let me briefly explore three of them.

Monaco,

I have been to Monaco once and was there a couple days.
The whole time I was homeless.
Meaning this: I didn't have the money for hotels and I slept outside, in parks, alleys, out of sight, but out in the elements. The pictures I have are quite fun; the reality, though, is a stark reminder as I start a new year. The reminder is this: it's possible to be in a place of beauty, but not belong to it. It's possible to be able to take photos, but never close the distance between photo and reality.
And I am more and more convinced that closing the distance is a big part of what it means to be engaged culturally and what it means to love another person relationally. Do you draw closer to those you care for or do you keep them at a distance? And if you're at a distance, do you refrain from being anyone's critic, because you're just too far away to see clearly?
Now, let's go to the other part of my experience in Monaco. I didn't belong. That was obvious by how I was dressed, by what was in my wallet, by a host of things. And scores of people in our world are wondering daily where they belong.
David Whyte, in his poem "House of Belonging" instructs us with this:
"This is the bright home
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Wichita, Kansas

In 2011, my wife and I attended a conference in Wichita, Kansas, on the campus of Friends University. Part of the draw was to learn from men like Scot McKnight and Dallas Willard. The latter is perhaps as well known for his books as for his influence as a person. But, it's the latter that sticks out as we begin a new year. Why?

Because even a few years later, I remember the respect he received, the calm, quiet demeanor Dr. Willard conducted himself with and the wisdom he shared. I recall his discussion the vision, intention, and means outline (VIM) to spiritual life on a daily basis. Yet, for a brief time, in a weekend in Wichita, I remember that Dr. Willard was a peaceful, quiet man who seemed to embody well what has always bugged me about Jesus. It's actually possible to be busy, but not in a hurry.

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Cambridge, England

When I was a student, living in the United Kingdom, I was asked by a family friend to track down the gravesite of one of their relatives. The site was located in the World War II cemetery, right outside Cambridge, England.

After an hour or so, I found the site. I then knelt down and took a photograph, so that I could send the photo to the family friend (for which they were grateful). But, as I was kneeling in front of this site, I paused to look and up and suddenly noticed that I was kneeling amidst a sea of white crosses, all with someone's name on them, and all a reminder that sometimes loved ones sacrifice their life for kin and for country.

You may not think of visiting a cemetery, if you happen to be in England, but every single name is connected to another name that is not known and not written on the gravesite. In other words, someone lost and someone loved and often it's a both/and. When we love, we will get hurt. Why? Because real love gets dirty and messy and under one's skin. And that visit to the cemetery remains a vivid memory because part of it got to me.

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Barcelona, Spain

When I arrived at my hotel in Spain a few weeks back, I immediately was blasted with a wall of cigarette smell. So, I looked at my paperwork to find the phrase 'non-smoking' room (which I did) and then I paused and wondered whether or not I would switch rooms. 

I asked the nice lady at the desk if there's anything that could be done about the giant ashtray I was assigned to sleep in and she said that they'd work on it. I thanked her and then went to my scheduled business meetings. When I returned, my room smelled like a perfume bottle exploded and the windows were all open. I had to smile.

And then I promptly went downstairs to the desk to thank the nice lady and her staff. And therein lies the cultural moment that if you're someone who travels, feel free to take note. Saying 'thanks' in a sincere way truly does translate in to other cultures and languages.

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Rantoul, Illinois

Ok, it's been a while and you can track my progress at www.bomwhite.com

With that said, here's the new focus on this site and let's call it 'Stories can Walk'....I am asking you to journey with me to simply pay attention and find one thing in each of your own travels to hang on to. One thing. Don't try to remember everything, recount every detail of your travels, but just one thing to remember each new city, each new neighborhood. So, here goes:

Rantoul, Illinois, is less than an hour from where I live. It's a declining city in some respects, a victim of higher than normal unemployment and the closing of some factories. It's also home to the Chanute Air Force Base or the Chanute Air Museum, which is on the campus that was formerly an active air force base. Having helped with my daughter's recent field trip there my goal was to pay attention. I have recently been to Spain, Wales, England, and Ireland on work related trips and also returned from Chicago and Boston within the last few weeks, but none of the aforementioned sites moved me to tears. But, something at Chanute did.

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Changing Channels: Adding Choices

Growing up, we had three network stations and we pre-dated cable, the internet, and social media. Outside of watching Superfriends on Saturday morning and the Little Rascals’ reruns after school, I have very little recollection of television shows before high school. My dad is a sports fanatic, so usually if there was a game on, that’s what we watched.

I remember that it wasn’t really a big deal to change channels because one, you had to get up, walk to the television and actually turn the knob (yes, a knob) and secondly, choices were limited.

Then, suddenly, as I entered middle school, cable television became available and not only was our television on more often, we now had a remote control which meant we could now reward our impatience with a dozen other choices.

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Those Other People, Outside the Chosen Ones (Book Review)

(a review of chapter 13 for A Theology of Luke and Acts by Darrell Bock in the Zondervan series ‘A Biblical Theology of the New Testament)

Reviewing a theology text can be tricky as people come with different filters and lenses through which their own world makes sense. With that said, Bock’s volume serves to help the reader connect the big dots when reading the Biblical texts of Luke and Acts. Why is this important? Because in our world of tweets and sound bites, we can lose sight of some pretty important ideas in an ocean of details.

The second reason Bock’s volume is important is not just that it connects the dots, but that it does in two of the New Testament’s most pivotal books. The gospel of Luke, with the Christmas narratives, the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, and the Crucifixion account stands as one of the most quoted and referenced books in the Bible as well as world history. Think about the impact of the Good Samaritan which has even influenced the passing of laws mandating that first responders stop at the scene of an accident. And think about how many times a parent has rehearsed the story of the Prodigal Son, praying that their wayward child would return. Bock, in chapter 13, takes on an amazing subject entitled, “Gentiles and Nations in the Gospel of Luke”. In other words, it’s Luke’s account of ‘those other people’ who are not Jews and who are not chosen.

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How to Protest in a Violent World

“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Occupy movements, protests in the Middle East, and the ongoing fight to steward our environment, advocate for the poor, and stand against systemic human abuse all have made up some part of the global news cycle in recent months. The world seems to be both unsettling at times, but particularly unsettled in its own collective disposition in the 21st century. Unsettlement breeds all sorts of temperamental flare-ups and while it’s good and proper to protest against injustice or advocate for those whose voice is muffled, many of the current protests lack something.

When a person protests Wall Street greed by throwing a brick through a store window, no one really hears anything but the glass being shattered. When a Christian says something hateful about a Muslim, something is lost. When one political party demonizes another, both parties suffer.

Martin Luther King Jr., in his book Why We Can’t Wait outlines some rules for the demonstrators in the civil rights movement. They are summarized as follows:[1]

“Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.

Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation, not victory.

Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.

Pray daily to be used by God in order that all might be free.

Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all might be free.

Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.

Seek to perform regular service for others and the world.

Refrain from violence of fist, tongue, or heart.

Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.

Follow the directions of the movement and captains of a demonstration.” 

I am not sure I understand how to defend war from an individual perspective, it’s easier to discuss in political and statist terms. And I am not sure what protests will work and what movements will truly push us to a deeper level of human dignity, I think hindsight is helpful in this regard. I do believe, though, that the ‘how’ is important and that if injustice and the oppression of human beings is going to cease around the world, then demonstrators will have to choose their weapons with great wisdom and insight. The weapons of war are certainly different than the weapons of peace.

A Brief History of Christians Loving the Poor

I have been rather surprised at times by the push back of some people when phrases like ‘social justice’ and ‘social change’ are used in reference to Christians. Commentators on Fox News have warned against social justice rhetoric, while some noted evangelical leaders warn against deed ministry that seems separate from a ministry of preaching and proclamation. These may be good warnings per se, but let’s not swing from one extreme to another so readily without at least appreciating the Biblical and historical context that has been truly impactful. There is something to be said for outloving your neighbor.

In this vein, scholar and author John Dickson summarizes well the impact Christians can have culturally and historically through loving the poor and those in need well: John Dickson - Early Christian Charity
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About
As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.


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