Journey to ‘Be Known’: Reflections on our Time Together

May 31, 2022

Juniors Abroad

More than 40 years ago, the administration and faculty came together to design a program they would come to call Juniors Abroad. The program developed at an important time in the history of the university as we needed to increase our student base, and the idea of traveling abroad with a faculty member in the late 1980s was something students immediately embraced.

The program became one of our most effective recruitment and retention tools. Long-time faculty director Paul Chamberlain adapted the program over time, and today under David Martinez it has retained its initial focus to travel with faculty members and learn to engage in global cultures.

There certainly have been skeptics during my 23 years and others who wonder if it is worth our energy and effort. I have taken six trips with students and have always come back convinced that the program advances our mission. As president, I am relatively unknown to most undergraduate students, as my duties limit my capacity to know most students.

abroad3.jpgI know some may wonder why a president would spend time on a student trip. We certainly aren’t traveling in style, our hotels are modest, and we use our legs and public transportation to move in the cities we visit. In fact, we walked more than 200 miles in three weeks on this most recent trip. I do not think there was a student who believed that they could walk that far on their own in that time frame, but every one of them accomplished the feat, although they did use the term “marshmallow” to let me know that they could not keep pace and I needed to slow down.

The answer to why I would go on such a trip with students is quite simple: I get to know the students intimately over three weeks. We live and essentially work together. We learn each other’s stories, play together, and worship together. Students and faculty become “known” to each other in Juniors Abroad.

When I helped the students get checked in and move through security at the airport, I was proud of them. What did I learn? First, that these students are genuinely good people. They listened well to others and engaged in thoughtful conversation with each other and the people we met. Second, they were willing to explore, to do and try things that they had never done before. Third, we discovered that the stories we know and tell each other matter.

As we went from Dublin to Belfast and then to England, we often reflected on the types of monuments and cultural icons that were used to teach people about what is important. In England, most of the monuments center on military triumph and empire. In Ireland, the monuments feature events like the 1848 Famine or great literary achievements. What other culture do you know where a jail produces their most important historical conversation? What we portray externally to others matters, and we saw that better in Northern Ireland than anywhere else.

Finally, we often hear how “this generation” is leaving both the church and the Christian faith. That may be true in some broader generic sense, but it was not true of the students who came with us. They embraced different worship experiences and found God in new circumstances. They were open to learning and growing in ways that I find uncomfortable. I did not grow up in a more expressive religious tradition, and several of the churches we went to, although Anglican, bordered on a Pentecostal experience. Pastors invited us to open our hands to receive a blessing or to raise our hands to acknowledge the power of God.

Students embraced these calls far easier than I did. It was clear that most loved the Lord and cared deeply about what God was calling them to do in their generation. It was also clear, as you will note from the comments below, that students resonated with the narrative, especially as they heard it in the story of Dr. William Stevenson. He led us on a tour of the Troubles and talked about what it was like to be a child in Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s. It is one thing to acknowledge the history of a particular time, but quite another to live it through the voice of one who experienced it personally.   

At George Fox University, we come to work every day to build a university that knows its students and teaches them about Christ and his kingdom. In order to accomplish this, we need to know them and to also understand how God might be working in their lives. Faculty get to do this every day in their academic programs. Juniors Abroad allows us to enter into the lives of students even more deeply by living, worshiping and discovering together.

I wrote a daily travelogue while on the trip to reflect on each day’s experiences.

As we were preparing to return home, I asked each of the students to give voice to what was most important to them during the trip. Here are their brief reflections.

JulieAnn: These past three weeks have been some of the best of my life because of all that I have experienced and the friendships I have made. I learned to adjust based on what I noticed was different in the cultures around me. My eyes were opened to the depth of history that existed before the U.S. was founded. There is so much to learn.

I have also formed some of the most wonderful friendships while abroad, including with a few strangers, but mostly with my travel buddies. We have rushed, pushed through crowds, chatted, learned, grown and laughed together through all of our experience,s and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Getting to know people is one of the greatest pleasures in life, and I am so blessed to have been able to have traveled with this group of people.

aborad4.jpgReagan: What impacted me most on the trip was when we went on a tour of the Shankill neighborhood in Belfast. I had heard about the conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants in Northern Ireland, but I didn’t know that even to this day there is still some tension. We went on the tour with a man named Billy who worked at John Brown University in Northern Ireland. Billy grew up on Shankill Road during the height of the violent conflict between the Catholic IRA and the Protestant UVF. It was a great experience to go on the tour with someone who understood the community and the history behind it because he was able to offer insight and details that I didn’t know about the conflict. Even though learning about the conflict was very emotional because of the human cost, it was my favorite part of the trip. I wanted to learn more about the history of the conflict and since Billy was so detailed about it when he was walking us through his neighborhood, it helped me understand the personal experiences that impacted his childhood. 

Lauren: It’s hard to decide which moment was my favorite. Harry Potter Studio Tour? Giant’s Causeway? Or the touring of the Troubles? All of those were movie-worthy moments as I experienced them. Ultimately, I think it was visiting the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. Maybe it’s because I was still jet-lagged, but I cried when I saw all the old books. It’s immensely overwhelming to see something you love with your entire being, whether it’s a pop star or a sports team, in person.

When I saw the old poetry from all over the world, my heart was overjoyed and overfilled. It was encouraging to see that even long ago people loved to write and create in the same way I do. I made a discovery about myself on this trip, and it is that the max amount of time I can travel with a set group of people is three weeks. Even though I enjoyed the trip dearly and even more so some of the people, I need my personal space, at home, with my cat, and an American cold brew coffee in my hand that isn’t just an iced americano.


Ariana: So much has happened in under three weeks it’s hard to describe how I’ve been impacted. Out of all the places we visited, Belfast had to be my favorite. While we were there, I couldn’t help but notice the ferocity that lay in the street, but how it was equally balanced with the beautiful parts of nature. Billy added onto this feeling on our walk of the Troubles by explaining how damaging man is, but how nature will always fight back. In life it can be hard to balance the good and the bad, however when enjoying the monuments in Belfast, it was clear how both can be honored and lessons can be learned to change the future.

Cassidy: This trip has impacted more than I can write in one paragraph, so to focus on one point, I think the Lord has really shown me how beautiful humans are. The people of Ireland are beautiful because they show kindness in everything. The people of England are beautiful because they stand up for what they believe in. The people on this trip are beautiful because they are thoughtful, generous, thankful, easygoing, joyful, and loving. I’ve been impacted by the stories of Dublin, Belfast, Oxford, and London, but also by the stories and memories that I’ve made with my peers around me. These peers are now my friends.

Abi: I think the most impactful part of this trip was being able to meet some of the locals in the cities we went to. In Dublin and Oxford, we met a couple shop owners that we had some long talks with, and in Dublin we met Billy. Being able to talk to all these people gave me insight into the life and culture there that we wouldn’t get by just sightseeing.

While I really enjoyed learning about the ancient history of these countries, I think talking to people and learning about what life is really like there was so valuable. I bet a lot of us think of Europe as this idealized land, but it turns out that a lot of people there have thought that about America. Being able to hear firsthand about the current conflicts and what day to day life is like was so valuable and was something that I wouldn’t be able to get in any other way. Billy’s story was especially profound and gave us all a shock into what life is like outside of what we’ve experienced in the U.S. 

Eva: It has been an amazing experience to get to see the countries and cultures of Ireland and England. We learned some slang terms, admired the countryside, and learned about their history. It has been such a beautiful journey. The most inspiring part of this trip for me was meeting Billy Stevenson. I will never forget the wisdom he shared with us and the stories he told.

My favorite moments of this trip have been those spent building relationships with people and learning their stories. We got the privilege of talking to some people who live there. We built relationships with each other as a group. I have loved getting the chance to experience Ireland and England with this amazing group of people. These are memories and friendships that I will always cherish. 

abroad2.jpgConard: The past three weeks have provided a great reminder that while one chapter closes, another has opened. I have found and grown close to great friends, observed artifacts that are centuries older than America, and created meaningful memories that will last. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and am eager to continue school next fall with my friends.

Sean: Throughout this trip, I have experienced many events that I will remember and reflect on forever. Besides the friendships that I made and laughs that were shared every day, the most impactful event of the trip was our journey through the Troubles of Belfast. Billy led us through his childhood streets and explained where he played, fought, and watched friends die. He walked us around the block and showed us mural after mural of idolized terrorists of the area. Throughout the journey, he kept highlighting how through all his battles and nightmares, the power of Jesus allowed him to overcome all that was put in front of him.

For the last portion of our tour, we walked a segment of the peace wall. This brought so much sadness and confusion to me. I had never felt such gratitude to be an American and to live in a country so free and safe. However, my gratitude was short-lived as the urgent need for prayer for peace came upon. In conclusion, the trip to the Troubles has left a lasting impact on me and has left a burning desire to help and pray for the people on each side of the peace wall. 

Bailey: What impacted me the most during this trip was seeing just how similar, but also how different, Ireland and England are to America. While encountering American brands made me feel as if I was home, the way in which this region of the world manipulates American culture for its own ends is a major shock to the system. By seeing such action in practice, the ugly truth that America is not as prominent nor quite the authority leader that its people think it is is revealed. Rather than trying to deny this observance, I instead accept it and look to it as a means to improve.

As a history major, I firmly believe that if we fail to learn from our past mistakes, we will end up repeating them and wind up in a worse place than where we are already. Thus, by accepting the harsh reality of America’s position in the world, it becomes possible to garner more respect for our nation by fully achieving the ideals originally set out forth. All in all, this trip, while revealing some disturbing truths, establishes hope for the future.

Mark: What impacted me the most on this trip was getting to be engulfed in the Irish and British mindset as portrayed by the different places I visited and people I interacted with. I got a greater appreciation for the depth of my Christian faith through seeing the amazing and detailed church buildings and ceremonies. I experienced a new level of art from the various museums and old buildings I visited. I got to see firsthand how the people interacted with each other, whether it be on public transportation, in shops and restaurants, or even on street corners. I felt very enlightened by seeing the cultural similarities and differences between Europe and America.

Delaney: The most impactful leg of this trip was definitely Belfast, basically everything about it. I feel a deep desire and need to return. The day that we walked down Shankill Road and through the neighborhood with Billy for the Troubles tour, coupled with his personal testimony, was moving beyond words. There is a great amount of work that needs to be done in Northern Ireland and a lot of potential for good change to happen. 

The small group at Windsor Baptist Church was fantasti,c and I'll never forget it, especially a guy there named Luke, who serves the needs of the community by bringing Catholic and Protestant students together to play basketball. And Billy is honestly one of the most inspirational and incredible people I've ever met. I feel like my time in Northern Ireland in this life isn't quite finished yet. 

Crystal: Aside from the very obvious choices of people's spiritual and ethnic diversity, the sheer amount of history present on every street corner, and the Troubles, I found the time spent in cemeteries particularly impactful. In Dublin, a few of us visited the Glasnevin Cemetery where more than 1.5 million souls are laid to rest. It's such a peaceful place with graves literally as far as you can see in every direction, which makes one feel very small in the grand scheme of things. Even the smaller cemeteries, like where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are buried, have their own type of sad charm that makes them appealing in a heart-jolting way. It's incredible that places such as these are kept to remember the legacies of centuries of every type of person who has walked the earth. 

Kaleb: The experience that impacted me the most was in Belfast with Billy and the story he told about his life. To see the Troubles, the murals and memorials, and the peace wall, really made me think about what blessings I have been given in my life. Also, seeing Billy’s attitude towards life after all he went through was very impactful and caused me to reflect on my own life.

Another thing that impacted me was how much history can be preserved. I always tried to figure out what era a certain piece came from and was always surprised at how much older it was than what I guessed. This got me interested in what techniques are used for preservation. My favorite example of this was at the British Museum in the Egyptian exhibit where artifacts are around a thousand years old. The excursions we took in nature like Giant’s Causeway and Clonmacnoise, where I could experience God’s creation in a new place, were very impactful and reminded me that God can be seen in many ways by anyone anywhere in the world.

abroad6.jpgAna: The most impactful thing on this trip that I experienced was actually the visit to Shankill Road and the talk about the Troubles. It's hard for me to describe. I am the only Catholic student on this trip, so being there, among all those murals, hearing the stories from Billy and seeing the IRA tower looming in the distance was chilling. It’s hard to imagine that if my friends and I had been born in Belfast in the ’60s, we may have grown up hating each other on either side of that wall, all because of old reasons that don't really matter that much in the end. I think about that possibility a lot honestly, and I am very thankful that the Troubles have been over and the peace is allowing the two sides to heal.

I did find it remarkable how similar and yet how different the two countries were. In my journal I wrote that Ireland struck me as "musical,” as in mystical and somewhat spontaneous. On the other hand, England reminded me of “poetry,” as in more structured and regal in a sense. Both beautiful in their own ways and both similar, but not quite the same. The "poetic-ness" of England was lost somewhat in London, probably due to it being a big city and the Tube often sounding like my sleep paralysis demons, but I definitely found it to be true in Oxford. It makes me wonder where America, or even Oregon, would fit into that metaphor. Possibly art like a painting or a woodcarving, but I am not entirely sure. I have a lot of half-thoughts from the trip that are still processing and whirring around in my brain.