Guest Writer: Jana Anderson

Life in a university has a predictable rhythm; our days are measured by weeks and by semesters. Our hours are dictated by the courses we teach, student consultations, and the number of papers, presentations, and productions that need evaluation.  In other words, our time is scheduled by a calendar whose pages hum with the fairly predictable heartbeat of student life.

At this middle season of my academic career and life, I have longed for, and relished, the unpredictable: the hour returned to me via a canceled meeting, the serendipity of a completed, more-quickly-than-expected assessment of student work, the unexpected and nourishing visit with a colleague or a student.

Rob and Jana Anderson posing with study abroad students in Avila
Professor Jana Anderson and her husband Rob, an adjunct professor of Bible, joined the Fall 2022 LCU Global Campus trip to Avila, Spain.
That longing for the unpredictable, that searching for a story whose ending I didn’t know, was one of the reasons I, along with my husband Rob, applied for a teaching position in LCU’s Global Campus program. (Jon Acuff, a writer I follow, says that journeys with a known outcome are not adventures—they’re just errands. We are created for more.)

Our students long for adventures, too—not just the kind they read about in classic literature or see splashed upon theater marquees—but big adventures that call them to live big stories, that pull them away from their screens and routines and everything that is familiar and known and invite them to see God’s big world and the beautiful, unexpected, glorious places and people He created for them to know, appreciate, and experience.

Connor Levy poses in front of the Eiffel Tower
LCU students, like Connor Levy, have opportunities each weekend to travel across Europe.
This year, 23 students and four faculty members and their families said “Yes!” to that invitation and departed for Avila, Spain this past August for an immersive 3-month experience through LCU’s academic partnership with the Erasmus/International program at the Universidad Catolica de Avila (UCAV). Students had the opportunity to select from a menu of courses available both in person and online, including two required courses: an immersive Spanish language course taught by UCAV professor, Juan Antonio Sanchez and Art History, taught by Dr. Michelle (Massey, ’90) Kraft, the on-site director of LCU’s program. Students lived in UCAV’s residential housing with other students (some from Avila, some from other countries), ate in the residential cafeteria, and traveled throughout the city by foot.

Students engaging in evening worship
LCU Students and faculty engaged in weekly worship throughout their time in Avila.
Each weekend, when students completed their in-person courses, they could choose to learn through travel, seeing in person what they had read about only days before. By the end of our semester, students or faculty traveled to bucket list locations: Italy, France, Portugal, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Scotland, Greece, Monaco, the Vatican City, and England; within Spain, travel destinations included Barcelona, Seville, Salamanca, Segovia, Mallorca, San Sebastian, Granada, Toledo, and Madrid.

When students/faculty returned to Avila each Sunday evening from their travel destinations, they gathered in the residential hall chapel for a student-led time of worship and the sharing of communion, which was a favorite weekly gathering. During these times of worship, students expressed their amazement at what they had seen and how they had experienced God’s goodness.

“One of my favorite parts of Study abroad were the Sunday night chapels. The opportunity to sit and worship in our familiar language in an unfamiliar place and the community that was built in that space on Sunday nights was unlike any other.”
- Hannah Kay, sophomore early childhood education major from Hutto, TX

Students reflected each week with sentiments of being thankful that God gave us the ability to appreciate beauty, to see Him in the changing landscapes, and to see His glory reflected everywhere they went—in the landscapes but also in the great works people have created. They were so taken by His goodness—in the people, in the places, in the food. And taken by the creative gifts He has given people throughout the centuries—to paint, to sculpt, to build, to create. We all concluded that what He has created, and His creation within us, is inspiring and humbling.

Those remarkable moments happened during travel but were also experienced each day in Avila, where even ordinary daily activities took on a richer hue. From trips to the local grocer, walks to the ancient Avila walls, and conversations over café con leche and sugar-dusted neopolitans at the popular local coffee shop Granier, to sitting in the local park watching parents play with children and seeing senior adults strolling down grass-ringed walkways underneath the umbrella of trees—these offered their own unique beauty, and all of us were charmed by Avila’s people, the quiet hum of city traffic, and the unhurried rhythm of both pedestrian speed and a less hurried, less frantic speed of life.

“The thing I liked most about studying abroad was being able to experience a different pace of life. The slower pace really allowed me to enjoy things more than I did before like meals and drinking coffee, and bonding with others in our group.”
- Connor Levy, sophomore pre-engineering major from Lubbock, TX

LCU's 2022 group on the walls of Avila
The city of Avila, Spain, is famous for its walls—a daily sight as the cohort of LCU students and faculty walked the city.
As a faculty family, we lived in an apartment where we dried our clothes on cords draped across our small balcony. We studied and prepared for our courses in a living area that looked out onto the street below, where the street cleaners and people on their way to work conversed and sang in Spanish—and yet while everything we saw and heard was strange and new, it wasn’t threatening. We washed our dishes next to our dining table while listening to the sounds of muted voices and the clink of silverware drifting through the open windows as our apartment neighbors gathered for their midday meals. Those overheard conversations and the sounds of other families preparing their meals and gathering to eat were singularly impactful—in these activities that I have spent most of my life doing alone, I was in community. In a city full of strangers, I have never felt less alone.

LCU students throwing up the Chap sign in Avila
The community that LCU is known for showed up in new and different ways as students and faculty bonded during their time overseas.
This community—this rhythm of Spanish life—was a gift. We were all living in a city we had never visited before, where even the bread didn’t quite taste the same (it was better). Paprika was on the table instead of salt. The beds were a bit too short and the commutes a bit long. Our days unfolded in the company of our students and colleagues, many who only superficially knew each other before this semester. We were also in the company of Spanish students, faculty, and local townspeople we met along the way. We forged connections—with each other, with other UCAV students, with the people who served us meals, with fellow travelers on trains and metro lines and planes and boats and taxis, and with people we met over meals and in hostels, around patio tables and over tapas (Spanish appetizers served before the evening meals), and with everyone who showed us mercy along the way. We noticed the patience of store clerks and waitstaff and train personnel—and of many of the people who responded to requests for directions or help. We were shown grace from those who translated and who overlooked mispronunciations and language mistakes. We became deeply aware of and grateful to all the many strangers who granted hospitality along the way.

You have probably heard that Study abroad programs are life-changing, and you would be right, but maybe not for the reasons most obvious.

It is true that seeing the world—its people, its history, its culture—is transformative. Our minds and hearts expand as we see how big the world is, and conversely, how small.

“My study abroad experience was nothing short of magical. Every time I stood in the middle of a historical site, the scene for an iconic movie, or the most beautiful landscape, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of enchantment. My eyes were opened to the beauty of cultures that are different from my own. I am thankful for the opportunities provided by study abroad to gain a more diverse perspective of the world, make forever friends, and marvel at the wonderful works of our Creator.”
- Anna Cary, junior biology major from Lubbock, TX

But there are other gifts.

Study abroad demands a new pace: in a culture that wasn’t our own, we achieved more slowly. There was time for solitude and for contemplation. The days had a margin for being unproductive, in the best possible way; there was no status there, no impression to make, no grabbing and grasping. Instead, there was time to listen to one another, to enjoy the pace of much slower dining experiences, to share (clothes, food experiences, travel tips, laughter, tears), to consider the beauty of nature, to think, to pray, to wonder, to explore. Students even had the novel experience of sometimes being bored—a less obvious gift that is the birthplace of most creative work.

“This experience changed me in ways I never dreamed. Beyond the cultural experiences of exploring different countries, it was the day-to-day slower pace and intentionality on taking time to be still, pray, reflect all while being immersed in God’s beautiful creation. Coming home you realize God provides beauty everywhere, we just need to take the time to be still and see it.”
- Kate Childre, senior pre-med major from Cedar Park, TX

Students were reoriented to the value of community that is formed through time and shared experiences and over shared meals. Dorothy Day described community and mealtimes this way: “We [know] each other in the breaking of the bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet, and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, when there is companionship.” Spain offered our students a rich and varied feast in the company of both strangers and friends, and our students learned to relish each bite. We have all returned with the renewed conviction that community is a priority.

“I loved my study abroad experience because I was able to travel the world with some of my best friends and create new friendships that will last a lifetime.”
- Ty Drury, sophomore business marketing major from Fort Worth, TX

LCU students eating in a cafe
Students and faculty alike shared that the pace of daily life in Avila was a blessing all on its own.
One gift was a surprise. Students learned to pack light, to be less weighed down (both physically and metaphorically) by all they carry. Whether they were traveling to another country or were simply walking to classes, to a local museum or basilica, or even hiking the portion of the Camino de Santiago that winds its way through Avila, they traveled together and with backpacks. No one was left behind; no one carried more than he/she could handle. We all discovered that most of what we carry we don’t need, and when we lack, someone else will provide.

Every experience wasn’t Instagrammable or blog-worthy. There were travel highs and lows, days when students dealt with loneliness and homesickness and the effects of unfamiliar food and not enough sleep. There were unexpected travel delays, missed flights, and train strikes. Not everything went according to schedule. But one of the terms we learned in Dr. Kraft’s Art History class was chiaroscuro—an artist’s use of dark shadows on the canvas to create a greater contrast to the light.  I would like to think that the shadows of those less perfect days made the beautiful moments even more so.

Our students (and we) were able to have these experiences as the result of the sacrifices of parents, siblings, friends, employers, and a university that understands the value of this kind of travel-as-text experience.  It will take the rest of our lives to understand the impact of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and that, perhaps, will be its final, lasting, and most meaningful gift.

To learn more about LCU’s Global Campus opportunities for students visit

Sunset in Ávila

In 1917, the Italian painter Guido Caprotti was on a train bound for Madrid, fulfilling a commission to copy a painting at the Prado Museum. Short of his destination, though, at the town of Ávila, the locomotive made an unscheduled stop, its way blocked by a heavy snowfall. Caprotti and his fellow passengers were stranded. Making his way from the station up to the walled city, the artist was stopped in his tracks for the second time that day. In this instance, it was by what he saw before him: “Upon arriving at the walls, spectacularly snow-covered . . . light filled my eyes and my soul,” he later recalled. “In this splendid, full-moon night, below an arch in the wall, a man was singing. They told me he was a ‘watchman,’ and I decided to stay in Ávila.” 

I, accompanied by Lubbock Christian University’s inaugural study abroad group, first saw Ávila in 2016—some ninety-nine years after Caprotti’s arrival at the ancient walled city. Like the early 20th century painter, I too was struck by the light, its warmth reflected by the golden masonry of buildings erected some seven hundred years before. This, I thought of the entire city, is my art history classroom!  

My husband Albert and I had undertaken academic travel with students many times before, to Italy, Turkey, and across Texas and New Mexico. But this was different: instead of days, we would be here for weeks, months. And we were—professors and students alike—enchanted. What excited me most that first year (and still does) was anticipating what the students were going to experience over the course of our time together in Spain. Through academic travel, things that have heretofore been mere shadows of ideas, or distant histories, suddenly snap into focus and coalesce. Knowledge becomes material, concrete, as students are immersed in places and see things about which they have only read in textbooks. The world simultaneously contracts and expands, and the experience is transformative. Every year since LCU’s study abroad in Spain began in 2016, I have had the privilege of watching paradigms shift, attitudes adjust, and self-assurance grow as students come to recognize themselves in relationship to their world, and to their faith.  

Early in that first year, on one particular evening, Albert and I stood outside Ávila’s walls, gazing at the scene before us. The glow of sunset was giving way to twilight, as headlights from the “road to Toledo” crested the distant mountains and inched into the valley below: sunset in Ávila. It is remarkable to me how often our LCU study abroad participants photograph, and post to social media, images of sunsets over Ávila. Often, while walking through the city’s darkened streets, I have looked to the skies—the stars and moon—and recognized how, though we are very far from home, I am seeing the same stars and moon that my family and friends are seeing in the U.S. Perhaps, by capturing images of those sunsets, too, we are recognizing that there are likewise stunning sunsets at home. This same firmament connects us from one continent to another, as it does one epoch to the next—world without end, amen.  

And now, as it is the end of my own day with LCU’s study abroad in Spain, I am proud of what the university has accomplished in this program’s first seven years. The experience has changed lives, mine included. Guido Caprotti asserted that his initial impression of Ávila, on that first snowy night, influenced the trajectory of the rest of his life. The experience of LCU’s semester in Ávila has likewise changed the lives of the dozens of students and faculty that have had the privilege to undertake it. It will, as well, for those to come. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.  

Michelle Kraft, Ph.D. 
Professor of Art 
On-site Director, Study Abroad in Spain, 2016-2022