For most students, the prospect of studying abroad conjures images of exotic food, impressive architecture, awe-inspiring landscapes and a myriad of exciting new languages and accents. Despite experiencing all those things, fourth-year French major Erica Ten Hove’s term in Montpellier, France still had its share of challenges. While settling into the beautiful and safe small city, she began feeling an unexpected yearning for home.
“I just longed for normalness. Things like my family and a familiar culture, familiar food, just something that was normal and more a part of me,” she says.
Longing for normalcy on a daily basis could have led to Ten Hove feeling emotionally and spiritually depleted. However, she discovered that most of the support and comfort she craved came through self-care and attentiveness to her need for structure and routine.
“Seeing little glimpses of where God was every day allowed me to see that he was still with me and providing for me.”
“I actually felt most at home when I was going on a walk by myself somewhere, because I did that a lot while I was growing up. So when I was able to do that or establish a routine of working out, as I would at Redeemer, I developed something that I still felt was a part of me I could express in France.”
She also made sure to emphasize her continual reliance on God, while still often feeling distant from him.
“It was one of those desert moments in your life where you don’t feel God. You feel like, ‘I know you’re still there, I know you’re still with me, but it would be way easier to serve and glorify you right now if I could feel you.’ My spiritual life in France definitely struggled in that way, but seeing little glimpses of where God was every day allowed me to see that he was still with me and providing for me.”
A lot of these glimpses came through the people Ten Hove encountered in the Montpellier community. Part of her term required service-learning hours, which she completed at a local cafe called Chez Théo. There, she met people who, despite being from various countries and walks of life, shared the common goal of making her feel at home.
“There were a few couples I met at Chez Théo, one originally from England and another from the United States. They were learning French and living in France as missionaries. I met them near the end, but they definitely helped establish a sense of home to a certain degree. The American couple even invited my friend and me over for Thanksgiving, which, even though it was American Thanksgiving, was still food that I was used to. It felt so special and they were just so kind to us. There were also things like how protective my host family was of me, the encouragement of my Redeemer friends in the program and receiving phone calls from my family back home that all helped me see God.”
It is these reminders of God’s sustaining love, even in the midst of emotional and spiritual upheaval, that allow Ten Hove to look back on her experience in France as a time of growth, resilience and a huge improvement in her French language skills.
“I know I wouldn’t be able to speak French as well as I do today. I also definitely have more of an appreciation for different cultures and seeing how different people in different ways can still find common ground and a way to be together,” she says.
As she moves forward to complete her degree and go on to further adventures, Ten Hove is more confident than ever that, with God’s help, she can take on whatever other challenges may come.
“I found out I’m actually able to handle a lot, which was pretty incredible to see because I wouldn’t willingly have put myself in those circumstances. Along with other hard times I’ve gone through, I’ve also been reminded of the people supporting me and who God has placed in my life for a reason.”