by Kiley Christianson
Ever lost a phone? What about two phones? What if you lost both phones in the same week? The funny thing about this question is that I know the answer. Last fall, I studied abroad in Chile. Why? I really didn’t know when I made the decision. The only thing I knew was that I felt a pull to go abroad, and Chile was the only country that truly gave me an unexplainable sense of peace. I applied not only past the application due dates but also the dates for payment. Already my outlook for being able to go was nonexistent. Yet, God pulled through and was faithful to His promise. This became my entire trip’s challenge. Did I really trust God? In theory, don’t we all? But when the times hit, how do we actually respond?
The first few weeks were incredible – seeing the ocean, exploring multiple cities, going on excursions and tours, moving in with my host family, making new friends. It was thrilling being exposed to a brand new country. But it didn’t stay sunshine and giggles the whole time. A period began where I don’t think I have ever felt so completely empty and defeated. I was in an 8.3 magnitude earthquake, I was in a tsunami warning while all alone, my U.S. phone was stolen on the bus, my Chilean phone was run over by a bus the same week, I tripped and cut my face while spilling coffee all over my host family’s kitchen, I couldn’t sleep for weeks, I had to switch medications in a foreign country and I struggled with loneliness beyond what I had ever felt before. My family, my friends, Northwestern, my job, my routine and my church weren’t even accessible anymore. When you place all of your identity in these things, what are you left with when you are literally removed from all of them?
There were days I was on the verge of tears all day long. I would cry on my bus to and from classes, I would cry during lectures, I would cry alone in my room, I would cry on the bathroom floor at school. I would just cry. My favorite place to cry was in the arms of Lorna, who was my mentor down in Chile. Because my program, ISA-Veritas, was Christian-based, each student was assigned a Christian mentor. One day for our weekly meeting she greeted me, “¿Comó estás?” My only response: weeping. She held me without question. Instead of asking what was wrong when we let go, she simply asked if I wanted ice-cream. Naturally, I said yes. Ice-cream is good for the soul, anyway.
Throughout my semester, Lorna pushed me to deepen my intimacy with God. She gave me the opportunity to stretch my faith by encouraging me to pray all the time, to always be using my gifts and to spend as much time as possible with him alone. And I did it. It took a lot of yelling at God and being confused, but he met me each time I sought him out. I know this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t gone to Chile. To be pulled from every source of comfort possible is to realize your one true source of comfort: God.
For more information on study abroad or ISA-Veritas, contact Kiley Christenson at or the study abroad office at .
Kiley Christenson is a second-year international business major. She longs to study abroad again and use her degree to travel more in the future. Christenson lives in New Brighton with her family, and she cannot imagine moving away from them for too long (photo by Kiley Christenson).