Third-year Intercultural Studies students at Columbia have the amazing opportunity to spend eight months on a cross-cultural internship in a country of their choice. Oh the places they go! As far away as Cambodia and as close as Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. They come back with incredible stories and first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to immerse yourself in a new culture in a kingdom-focused way. Here are some of their reflections…
What’s one high point of your internship experience?
I’ll never forget the beauty of a room full of people from different cultures sharing a meal, laughing and open to learning from each other, and the freedom we had to pray together, even though we all have a different picture of God and are continually learning more about Him. ~Yolanda
Getting to know the long term workers was a highlight. I was impacted by hearing their stories and learning the things that they were passionate about. With each of them I was able to discuss future plans and different approaches to the problems we faced there. ~Nick
There were many high points during my internship. I found the culture fascinating and the people wonderful. I found joy in the relationships that I made in every aspect of my internship. Every relationship taught me something new. One leader that really impacted me was the head teacher at the elementary school where I taught as a volunteer. She was someone that I could always talk to. I became very close with her. ~Mallery
The main highlight was, of course, making so many friendships and connections with so many people in Portugal. Another highlight was learning the language to the point where I could get by in conversations. I am amazed to see how I am completely transformed by God and becoming a completely different person now than who I was before! ~Emily
What was the greatest struggle you had in your internship experience?
My ability to give to people was stretched. I had to find balance between the reality that my emotional capacity was not able to handle certain situations and my selfishness in “not feeling like it.” I often wondered: “if Jesus’ words about his burden being light are true, why are people so exhausting?” ~Chloe
My greatest struggle was understanding where the line is between personal and work relationships in ministry. In a church you may be more vulnerable about yourself, but that can also blur lines between two people. I found that really difficult because I wanted to connect with others while staying professional. ~Katheryn
What was the most important lesson you learned regarding cross-cultural relationships?
The most important thing I learned was that each individual has a unique story and I can learn something from everyone. People are not a project. ~Yolanda
One thing I learned is that especially when there is a definite language barrier, you do have to work at the relationship and put a little more effort into it. But, I also learned that cross-cultural relationships are much more special in my perspective because you can have this strong connection and bond with someone or anyone anywhere, no matter if they speak the same language as you. Personality is all that matters in friendships and relationships. If both of your personalities click, it will be for a lifetime. ~ Emily
I’ve been on a lot of cross-cultural trips, but this one definitely taught me more about the importance of long-term investment in people. I learned that it takes a long time to get to a deep place with people of other cultures; however, if you’re willing to listen, learn, and “stay at the table” you’ll build relationships that will last – in some cases – for eternity! ~ Julia
I learned that there is a time to speak and a time to listen. Communicating can be difficult because as Westerners we want to tell our own stories instead of listening. However, that tends to make those we reach out to feel less important; as if our agendas have a higher priority than their value as a person. There were instances during my internship were I created road blocks because I did not listen. ~ Katheryn
What did you learn about communicating the gospel and biblical truth within your internship context?
I learned how amazing it is that the gospel can be interpreted in so many diverse contexts and cultures. It excited me to begin to see and understand how Jesus works outside of my own tradition and how He works in other people and cultures, whether they are aware of Him or not! I began to see that it’s not about me trying to fit Jesus into another culture, it’s about me trying to see how Jesus is already there. ~Yolanda
The most important thing I learned was that talking about our Christian faith doesn’t need to be a difficult or scary thing. If someone wants to have a spiritual conversation they will have it and if not they will let you know. You definitely need to know exactly what you believe though, because I found people can pick up very easily when you don’t know what you believe. ~Nick
Communicating the gospel is not as simple as I had earlier perceived. I learned the importance of living out the gospel in everyday life and understanding the host culture on a deeper level. ~Mallery
I learned that you cannot force understanding on people. You cannot force the gospel upon them. You have to introduce it to people slowly and at their own pace. Don’t overload them. Give them a little bit at a time so that they can all go home and reflect individually and if they come back to you, keep feeding them a little more. ~Emily
I learned that thoughts, attitude and actions are very important when communicating the gospel. Because I lacked language, often times the only way I could communicate the gospel was through how I lived and handled situations that arose. ~Allison
I learned that it takes a very intentional investment in someone and a great deal of trust to communicate the gospel. Many people were very interested in religious things but closed to biblical truths. I saw the absolute value of long-term workers and their call to do life and make friends with the intent that maybe, just maybe, one day they’ll get to share the gospel. ~ Julia
What was the main contribution you made in your internship assignment?
I like to think I loved people well and I cherish the conversations I had. ~Chloe
I think I brought a new sense of positivity and purity into all the lives of all the people I had encounters with. Many people in Portugal told me that I was a very happy person, smiling all the time and that I was the most pure person that some people had met. I know that the pureness came from God and they were seeing Jesus’ purity in and through me! ~ Emily
I think that my investment in the long-term missionaries’ kids was my greatest contribution. I saw, early on, the opportunity to help with driving, child-care, cleaning, and more! I had the chance to take the kids skiing and I stayed with one of the families for a week to help driving them to and from school. I connected well and quickly with their kids and those families will always hold a dear place in my heart! ~Julia