‘See, that’s what I think homesickness is,’ a good friend recently told me, ‘having to explain yourself all the time. It’s that feeling of not being known.’
My first few months on my year abroad were characterised by a sense of being perpetually lost – whether around the city or in conversation.
In class, my professors would make jokes that would go straight over my head. Whilst the rest of my class roared with laughter, I kept my head down, wondering how long it would take for me to be able to access their exclusive club of linguistic communality.
At the beginning things weren’t much better at home. My flatmates would ask for my say on bills and rent contracts and I would freeze up, shamefully aware of the fact that I probably wouldn’t fare much better were the conversation to concern the very same topic in my native language.
But I’d smile whenever someone mentioned London or asked me how to pronounce a word in English, for it at once restored in me the hope of a sense of belonging, even if nobody quite understood the intricacies of what made where I had grown up ‘home’.
I will forever be grateful for the Christians who reached out to me, recognising that the unity we have in Christ far surpasses our cultural differences. I was welcomed in by the university’s ‘GBU’ (the Spanish-speaking version of the Christian Unions). Their members invited me into their homes (a few even went to the effort of making me homemade fish and chips during my last few weeks in Spain!), sent me notes and text messages of encouragement, and went out of their way to help me complete small but necessary tasks like opening a bank account during my first week.
And through these various acts of kindness, I was reminded of the fact that I was known and loved by Christ and that even before I learned how to articulate a single word, I had already been spoken for. So even when I felt like my surroundings were anything but steady, I could hold fast on to my rock; on to my strong tower and everlasting fortress.
If there’s one thing I learned from living and studying in a different country, it’s that the kindness of just one stranger can do wonders to combat loneliness, fear and isolation when placed in an unfamiliar place, and this is worth so much more when said stranger points you to the saving love of Jesus; to the one who never changes.
What’s your story of experiencing God’s love at uni? Who could you share it with?
Amaka Opara is a fourth-year student at Oxford University, and has just returned from a year abroad studying languages at the University of Salamanca, Spain. She blogs over at www.mychiamaka.com