The reason I’m in Ireland right now is because God called me here.
To those who aren’t religious, that may sound like a ridiculous statement, but for me it is wholly real. You see, I was supposed to study abroad in London. That was my dream – to read Shakespeare in the home of his plays, to walk in the footsteps of my favorite authors, to be surrounded by a city I’ve been romanticizing since I was little. I had the whole thing planned, but some last-minute and completely unexpected scheduling conflicts led me to consider other options. That’s how I came across the Dublin Writers Program, and immediately alarm bells went off in my head, saying that’s perfect for you.
My heart was still set on London, however, and I desperately tried to make it work. But something in the back of my mind kept reminding me of the Writers Program, and I soon found myself researching Ireland, spending hours staring at pictures of both the city and the countryside. I was torn, so I prayed about it endlessly. God showed up quicker and more obviously than I could have ever expected. The day after I began my fervent praying, I woke up with my answer pounding through my head as clear as day: I’m going to Dublin.
I knew that something was waiting for me in Dublin, a city I’d grow to love and opportunities beyond measure. This would be an adventure with a purpose. But part of the journey to find that purpose is in maintaining a relationship with God while abroad.
For those like me who are seeking ways to keep the faith overseas, know first that it may not be as easy as it seems. Why? Because you’re not in a bubble anymore. Your home church won’t be right down the road, and there’s no guarantee that anyone you meet abroad will share your faith. You’ll be in the midst of a completely new culture that religion may or may not be a part of. And of course, it’s easy to fall to your knees in praise after seeing the natural beauty of the Irish landscape, but it’s much easier to lose God when you’re constantly running between academics, travel, and other obligations. It’s much harder to pray when you’re shut up in your room, fatigued and longing for home. Practicing your faith abroad takes effort, but trust me when I say that it only enhances your experience to know that God is by your side.
Though everybody’s faith looks different in practice, I thought I’d share some of the tactics that I personally have found helpful in placing God first amidst all of studying abroad’s chaos. While these three points will seem obvious, it never hurts to have a reminder of the simple things.
1. Find a church.
One of my goals in studying abroad, both for my personal interest and in order to see more of the city, was to attend a different church every Sunday. Since arriving in Dublin, I’ve been to an array of churches, each one giving me more insight into the religious atmosphere in Ireland.
Of those who are religious in Ireland, the majority are Catholic. I am not Catholic, but in order to learn about and show respect to Irish culture, I’ve been attending mostly Catholic churches. I started at John’s Lane Church, not ten minutes from my apartment, and spent my first visit in a state of stunned silence. The inside of the church is the most beautiful I’ve seen so far, ornate and detailed, and I marveled at how much care must have been put into creating the church. I spent the service observing how the people around me worshipped differently than I was used to, much more calm and serene. For those who appreciate a more traditional service, Evensong choir services at Christ Church or Saint Patrick’s Cathedral provide what feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, getting to worship in the most famous churches in Ireland.
A few weeks later, I found a church that was more similar to my church at home, with modern worship and more interactive people. It was at Saint Catherine’s Church on Thomas Street that I first felt at home in a new church. On top of being good places to worship and learn, churches are the perfect places to go if you want to feel welcome in your new community. The people within radiate kindness.
Whether you bring a physical copy of the Bible or download an app on your phone, get a copy and read it. There is so much wisdom within, and you may find that it is applicable to you now in a different way than before. The Bible has an answer to every worry, and reading it will be a good reminder that no matter how anxious or weary you may feel adjusting to your new home, God is with you.
On that same note, I would also recommend bringing a devotional. Not only will this encourage you in your reading, but it will allow you a space for reflection. I bought a 100-day devotional before my program began, one reading for each day of the program. The first day, the passage I read was about feeling lost and remembering that God will direct your path. It was the perfect message for that first day in Dublin and eased my worries. There have been numerous occasions since then where God seems to be speaking directly to my heart through these devotionals, and reading on each night allows me the chance to focus and speak back.
This tip is so simple and yet so vital. The most important piece of advice I could give to anyone who wants to practice their religion abroad is to constantly communicate with God. Thank Him for the blessings throughout your day and for each new opportunity. Cry out to him when you’re anxious. Ask Him to guide you in your purpose. And almost as important as asking, listen. If God is calling you to study abroad, follow the call. I promise there’s a reason.