Time, treasure, and talent — these are three areas of stewardship that often come to mind. But my dad always reminded me that there are other areas of stewardship, including one’s body, mind, spirit, and relationships. He told me not to underestimate the importance of relationships. As C. S. Lewis famously said in The Weight of Glory,
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. . . . Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.
College students naturally have many opportunities to build relationships, whether with peers, professors, RA’s and RD’s, administrators, countless facility workers, or with the wonderful people at MAP and Hicks and the Student Union who prepare our food.
One of the special joys of being in France this semester is having the additional opportunity to build intercultural friendships. Our program is structured to encourage these intercultural relationships, as the American and French students have a weekly class together at ONIRIS, our partner school in Nantes, and then go to dinner together nearby.
This year, the cross-cultural class challenged students to think about the ways cultural differences can be a barrier as well as a stepping stone to advancing intercultural communication. Oftentimes we have projects and discussions in class, allowing us to get to know each other better while learning the course material.
I am definitely a fan of the weekly dinners after class. We order in French, get our food (cafeteria-style), find a table, and eat with our friends. Most of our conversations are in English, though my friends were curious about my progress in French and this week asked me to try saying a few things — and were quite pleased that I could do so, even though I have very limited grammar and vocabulary.
We also had a Christmas party at the study center and are invited the seventeen French students to come as well. It was such a blast!
Anyone contemplating the program should consider the value of making friends with students from other cultures, as it is something that is highly encouraged. Depending on one’s involvement at our church, it is also possible to get to know students from many other countries as well. The church also hosts an international student’s ministry which serves people from all over Asia, Europe, and Africa.
I’m grateful for the experiences I have had and hope to spend these final weeks valuing friendships even as I finish some big assignments and take final exams.