Vanessa Chan sees her time studying abroad in Helsinki, Finland, pictured, as a new spiritual frontier. Photo courtesy of KFP, Wikimedia Commons

A new spiritual frontier abroad

By  Vanessa Chan, Youth Speak News
  • October 27, 2016

When I moved out of home for the first time, going to university, the big decision was taking matters of faith into my own hands. At university, there is no parent to wake you up on Sunday morning and drag you out to church. Did I really want to do all of that?

By the grace of God, my curiosity about the Church and desire for knowledge led me to seek the Newman Centre Catholic Chaplaincy at University of Toronto. I realized that there was a whole lot I never learned from Sunday school. I was blessed with fellowship and role models.

After four years with not only a bachelor’s degree but a whole lot of spiritual growth, I was ready to challenge new frontiers in school and in life. So when an opportunity for an exchange abroad came from my graduate studies in Toronto, I jumped on it.

Moving to Helsinki, Finland has felt like a new frontier in many ways and not just because I had never lived in Europe before. It was a very new spiritual frontier and one that caused me to reflect on my actions differently. It gave me an opportunity to not only just be with myself, but learn about myself and my relationship with God.

When I moved cities to begin graduate school, I knew where to look. Living as a student campus minister at the Newman Centre gave me a built-in Catholic community. But coming to a country with a much smaller Church presence, it took a bit longer to find where to go and I quickly realized just how much I had taken the chaplaincy at home for granted.

I have found that a harsher spiritual environment like this really challenges my tendency to be lazy when left to my own initiatives. Even the fact that the closest church is not near home or school, as well as making the journey on my own, makes going to Mass a very conscious effort. Each time I pedal my bike out on Sunday morning, rain or shine, I am aware that it is for Christ.

I have searched and attended several Masses in different cities, but whether it be in English or Finnish, Tridentine Rite or novus ordo, I am awed by the universality of our Church – the Mass is the Mass.

A friend of mine who also studied abroad for a time once described her stay as something like a very long retreat. I cannot help but agree. I have found my experience to be one of self-discovery and renewal of faith.

So if you are facing a turning point in your life, I hope this gives you a bit of encouragement. By no means is it easy, but it will be a spiritual whetstone for your faith, as each of those big decisions you find yourself making takes on a new meaning when offered up to the Lord.

As is said 365 times in the Bible, do not be afraid.

(Chan, 24, is a second-year psychology PhD student currently studying at University of Helsinki in Finland.)

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