Working in study abroad programming, short-term relationships are something that become very familiar in our field of work. We welcome students with excitement and anticipation for the semester ahead and say goodbye to them three and a half months later. For such a short amount of time together, one may assume that our community is more guarded and disconnected. However, during my time working with Living and Learning International and witnessing countless new relationships being formed, I learned that oftentimes it is the exact opposite.
In many ways, the idea of short-term relationships conflicts with what a lot of us view as a “worthwhile” investment. I, as well as in students, have felt this friction. Connection requires that we are vulnerable with one another, and sometimes that risk can feel too great when we know the people around won’t be there forever. Consequently, this has turned into a conversation we often have, the idea of whether or not it really is worth it. After engaging in a ministry model like this for the past three years, I can say that it is not only worth it, but that it also represents an essential part of the Christian walk.
It is incredible to see the Lord provide what we need for this investment each semester. Even in the moments when it feels tiring to continuously invest just to say goodbye, I have seen God's goodness and favor in this ministry. There is renewed energy each time we find ourselves in front of a new group of students, ready to display the same level of love and importance. And while sometimes it does get difficult, these cycles of relationships are life-giving and exciting. I have personally seen that my teammates, and others who work in this form of ministry, grow exponentially in their ability to form deep relationships with many different people, and speak truth with unique connections to those who enter their lives.
Where it Begins
When students enter into a new country, everything is unfamiliar to them. They have to rely on others for directions to their apartment, learn to order food in a different language, make the right turn down the correct street, or even trust someone enough to let them know about the challenges in adjusting to a new culture. It is in those moments when students learn to ask for help, voice their concerns, and trust one another that deeper relationships are formed. It is in the small decisions of admitting they don’t know or understand that create opportunities for a different type of connection. And it is there I see the beginning of depth and richness begin to flourish. Through those moments, I am reminded why these short-term relationships are not only important, but also necessary in our lives. They teach us lessons our long-term relationships can often neglect.
In any relationship, depth can be difficult to achieve, but it is undoubtedly more challenging in a short amount of time. That is why, as a staff, we depend on the Lord to help us navigate those relationships and build trust. There is a 1:5 staff to student ratio, and we are well-aware that we cannot deeply invest into each life, so we prayerfully seek the Lord for who and how to pursue, and align our program with what we feel would be most impactful for the community. As a Resident Coordinator, it is our job to seek out and mentor the students in our home. They are our focus in order to make sure that each student has someone they can count on investing in them during their semester abroad. Others on staff can choose to connect with specific students or make a general offer for connection to all in the cohort and invest in those who ask. During those times of 1:1 conversation, students begin to feel more comfortable with sharing honest reflections of their days, minds and hearts.
There are many reasons the investment is worth it. One being when a community chooses to invest, people begin to see the purpose and reward of allowing themselves to be known. When they step out and allow themselves to be fully known, there is a greater opportunity to see that they are fully loved. As L&LI creates these relationships, we desire to unearth the value each individual already holds by fully and intentionally investing in their lives. Our students begin to understand that even in a short season they are worth the investment. In that something powerful happens; they not only believe it in their immediate space, but they begin to see it in other areas and relationships in their lives as well. Students tend to find safety in knowing the person sitting across from them desires to know and love them fully, and are therefore, more willing to become vulnerable and reciprocate investment.
Furthermore, after a semester ends students have expressed they are more trusting, willing to invest, and ask for help in other communities. They see value in a short season, and desire to carry that into long-term areas of their lives. It is worth it because the impact and change doesn’t just stay in this community, it permeates their lives and the way they choose to engage with other relationships. Students carry the skills they have learned such as, their ability to open up and invite others in. As a result, their future communities are impacted.
Finally, there is the simple fact that others are worth the investment. Relationships don’t have to be permanent to be worthy of the investment. Even if just for a season, people are worth the effort, and we would not want to communicate anything different. It is an honor to walk with others while they wrestle, and it is a joy to celebrate with them in victories. As such, we have learned to be grateful for these short-term relationships and the opportunity to be part of a bigger picture. We are only a small brush stroke in the painting, and when we realize relationships are seasonal, we can hold them with open hands and trust that even if it’s for a short while, the impact is long-lasting.
About the Author:
Christina (CK) Garibay worked with Living and Learning International for three years serving as a Resident Coordinator. She first got connected with L&LI through a friend during her summer working at Hume Lake in 2016. She is passionate about discipleship and cross-cultural experiences, and loves seeing the two intertwined. She also loves flowers, chocolate, and laughter, which made Ecuador a perfect fit for her.