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Solveig Parsons is a junior politics major at Messiah College studying in Strasbourg, France. The following is a reflection she wrote for us that echoes our previous post about the importance of “transitions” from academics to career. Her new experience in Strasbourg, as you’ll read, is a challenge and an adventure. Whether our students choose to study abroad or explore cities and environments locally, we hope they will take each challenge as it comes.

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A Moment of Silence

Silence.

On the very rare occasions that I have kept my mouth shut during a discussion, I have noticed an odd trend: I usually learn something.

In these beginning weeks of studying abroad in France, I have had substantially more such moments than usual – not because I have had the great insight to willingly keep my mouth shut, but rather because I have found myself effectively mute.

Let’s just say that the transition from English to French has been a bit halting. Often I open my mouth, ready to convey my thoughts, only to find that I don’t possess the French vocabulary needed to transmit my meaning. Then there are the times where I wake up at night after dreams full of garbled French and general frustration.

It’s all part of the process, and I am already making a lot of progress (as my host mother commented a few nights ago, to my great delight). Still, it’s slow. Yet I’m coming to appreciate the slowness. To savor it, even. Knowing that this fumbling awkward stage is temporary makes it precious somehow. For, in my moments of involuntary silence, I find myself becoming the undeserving recipient of others’ wisdom.

Just the other evening I attended a French Bible study. We read a passage and were discussing questions. My normal reaction

would have been to slap down an answer, but that evening I mostly had to listen, just listen.

And the result was that the conversation drifted beyond my neat analytical box into uncharted waters. Before long, I was marveling at new ideas – Is the narrow gate before or after the narrow path? What’s beyond that narrow portal? Who gets through it? Suddenly it hit me – This is what it’s like to really listen. And I laughed at this sudden revelation of God’s work in the midst of transition.

I’m not JUST learning French. I’m not JUST transitioning. I’m not JUST studying. No, I’m being refined. I’m being changed. I’m becoming more beautiful. There’s that funny life paradox again –growing through struggle. Or, in my case, growing through change: When all my familiar surroundings evaporate, so do my comfy assumptions and coping mechanisms. And then it’s just me and God and a whole new world to explore again.

In a few months I hope to be speaking French fluently. But I don’t want to skip all the days in between. I want to enjoy my present moment. Even if it’s a moment of silence.

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Read more of Solveig’s study abroad reflections on her blog “Baguette Times”

We will be having a few more guest writers this semester, so keep checking in. We welcome your feedback in the comments section and any questions you have for the Department about our courses and study abroad opportunities.

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