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The Daily Tar Heel

Finding faith in study abroad

Today is the last day of the study part of my time abroad. Not that I spent much time studying or that my classes were difficult, but, like all of you, I will be happy to finish another semester.

Unlike most of you, though, my next trip is not hometown-bound. I will not be back to Stafford, Va., until January, with just barely enough time to hug my family hello and pet my dogs before I load up the car, say my goodbyes and drive down to Chapel Hill to move into a dorm I have never lived in — the day before the semester starts.

As much as look I forward to getting back, I have found myself wondering, as many college students do, where my physical and spiritual home really is, or whether I have one at all. Spiritually, I grew up as a nominal Christian, but I had drifted away.

Legally, my permanent address is in Virginia, but I spent more time in India than there this year. Chapel Hill, though awesome, is unlikely to be much more than a four-year stay for me. Likewise, I am not so pretentious to say that five months in Mendoza makes it my home either, considering that I have only just now (kind of) figured out (one of) the bus routes.

But to my surprise, I have found a home over the past year. It is in places ranging from basements of community centers to shacks in the (country) to large warehouses, in locations as distinct and diverse as New Delhi, India and Rodeo del Medio, Argentina.

It is a community that does not look primarily at my exterior — a bearded, clueless foreigner — but looks rather at the convictions of my heart. I found my home in the familiar but unexpected international, multi-lingual and multi-cultural church of Yishu (or Jesus, as you may know him.)

To say that I would not have expected that when I left the U.S. is an understatement. I expected that I would be, as in the U.S., too apathetic or too busy on most Sunday mornings to find time for church, especially since I was only passing through. Or, if I went, that I would find something wildly different from church in the U.S. — a foreign and unrecognizable meeting.

But, to my surprise, I ended up in a rickshaw or a taxi or on foot nearly every Sunday. And as for the services, they were different in form and language but identical in substance. Jesus, the Bible, singing and preaching were all center stage, everywhere I went. What I had thought of as a Bible Belt thing suddenly was not. Hearing the Gospel preached in Hindustani for the first time, I found out that the church ain’t just in the South — it is worldwide.

Seemingly great gulfs of nationality, language, race, economic opportunity and historical context do exist. But like our antecedents, when it came down to the core and important object of our faith we are in accord: A 33-year-old Jewish carpenter is the only Son of God.

Coming from a country where beliefs, tastes and right and wrong are constantly on the move, that was pretty amazing to me.

Therefore, my deep and oh-so-relevant study abroad-derived wisdom is this: I can live my whole life just passing through, too busy with right now to establish permanent connections. Instead, I found that eternal grounding is unlinked to time and geography. Not bad, for a few months abroad.

Kyle Olson is a columnist from The Daily Tar Heel. He is a Junior International Studies major from Stafford, VA. Contact him at

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