Raise your hand if you like traveling! 🙋
This article’s a little different, a reversal of sorts. Taking students on trips within the United States is great, as we’ve learned, but have you ever considered taking a trip to their own countries? Learn from our amazing IFI staff members about their experiences of traveling to visit international students on their turf!
What unique opportunities do visiting students on their turf open up?
1) Extra special care = extra deep relationships 🥰
If traveling with international students inside the United States already feels special, imagine going to their stomping grounds! The students feel extra care because you’ve decided to travel to their territory to spend time with them, and sometimes that means flying across the world.
“Never underestimate the impact it has to visit them in their home”
“Never underestimate the impact it has to visit them in their home”, said Larissa Swartz, IFI volunteer and past staff member. “It goes a long way in showing them how much you care and that you’re willing to make the trip. For several students, it’s very rare for people to travel to where they’re from; I remember how surprised the people in Pakistan were at me coming to my student’s wedding! As you demonstrate your love for them because of the effort you made to visit, you’re able to speak into their life in a unique way.”
Being in their homeland gives you a natural opportunity to experience and share life with them, and it truly grows the relationships.
2) A whole new world 🌎
When stepping into students’ homes, you get the unique privilege of seeing and tasting the culture that shapes them. It’s a humbling experience, as you’ve now become the minority within their context and are surrounded by the unfamiliar; but it’s an incredible chance to learn more, as you explore their roots, traditions, and behaviors firsthand. Think about it like wearing a new pair of glasses: you’re putting on their set of glasses and can witness their world from their point of view. “You have a different framework for understanding who they are”, Larissa said. “I understood different things about their cultures once I was in it and it was helpful.”
“I understood different things about their cultures once I was in it and it was helpful”
You’ll find out the stories told on their turf are unlike the stories heard in the U.S., as decision-making and how they practice their faith may vary. Although people are what make a place, location matters, too!
3) Gives you family across the globe 👪
Just when you thought you had enough family, be ready to add some more! Usually when visiting students, you’re introduced to their families and close friends, being invited into their homes and communities. “It’s a great way to meet their family”, said JP from IFI Cleveland. “It’s good because it not only doubles your connections but expands your influence.”
By meeting parents and spouses, greater intimacy is fostered, which may lead to spiritual conversations down the road for both the student and their family. But most importantly, meeting students’ families means adding to your family tree, because who said family is only by blood? “It allows you to build relationships with their families and now you’re a part of it”, said Larissa. “You’re not just a friend anymore, but included in their family. The people I met in Honduras keep asking me when I’m coming back!”
“You’re not just a friend anymore, but included in their family”
Since meeting more people and becoming an honorary family member, you now have a great excuse to return and visit!
4) Planting seeds and cultivating for an impact 🤗
Being in community with others is powerful and has the potential to spark profound conversations. Developing relationships and trust with individuals also has the potential to give you influence and credibility. As mentioned earlier, spiritual conversations may arise from the built trust. “Some are less interested and open to God in their own turf, and some are more interested and open, it just depends”, said JP. “Nonetheless, tracking with them for a longer period of time allows for more opportunity windows and allows them to experience transformation. It’s also great meeting local Christians and seeing what God is doing in that country that you may not be aware of while in the U.S.”
“…tracking with them for a longer period of time allows for more opportunity windows and allows them to experience transformation”
And unfortunately, many students don’t go back to healthy church environments. “If they don’t have that, someone who goes to visit can help bolster their faith”, Larissa said. “You can help connect them to a local body and give them incentives to continue growing in their faith.” So stay flexible and ready; you never know when doors may open.
Do we think you should travel to visit your students? Absolutely! “There is always growth in the relationship”, Larissa voiced. “I have deeper relationships with students now that I’ve visited them in their countries. It’s just a matter of how it continues over the years.”
“I have deeper relationships with students now that I’ve visited them in their countries”
Intentionality is huge, so don’t allow distance to get in between your relationships! “Visiting means caring”, JP quoted. “Visiting a second time means I really care.”
So, when are you taking a trip? 😉