JoAnna Vallejos ('11) | Study Abroad
Social work major
from Escondido, Calif.
When JoAnna Vallejos is asked what she misses most about living in Oxford, she talks about the simple things - little details that made up the daily routine of cooking and eating, conversation and study.
"The apples in the back yard," she says, and "looking out the kitchen window and seeing the changing colors."
Actually, the only thing she doesn't miss is doing laundry in the basement of the adjoining college, which rents out the two properties in which ACU students live and study. But nostalgia colors her tone even when she talks about the hassle of hauling dirty clothes over a gravel driveway and down a narrow set of stairs. In Oxford, it seems, even washing socks can make good memories.
JoAnna's Study Abroad experience centered on two things: friends and faith. She found both at St. Aldate's, a vibrant Anglican church in the heart of downtown Oxford. The church offered a wide variety of worship and service opportunities to college students, and JoAnna jumped at the chance to participate in this new community of faith. So did eight or nine other ACU students, who joined her in plugging into the student group and getting involved with the church.
Faith and friends
One of the reasons JoAnna felt so comfortable at St. Aldate's was that it reminded her of her home congregation in Abilene, Beltway Park Baptist Church. Both churches talked a lot about the imminence of God - His active presence in and among the lives of His people.
"They put a lot of emphasis on prayer and the Holy Spirit," she said.
Both churches were also service-oriented; St. Aldate's in particular offered several outreach groups that sought to exemplify Jesus to its community. One outreach project that JoAnna chose to join was called Club Outreach - a group of young people who set up tables outside one of Oxford's many clubs and offered coffee, tea and cookies to the people coming out.
The members of Club Outreach didn't preach sermons - but they did end up getting into a lot of deep theological discussions at 3 o'clock in the morning. JoAnna says many were surprised that the food and drinks were free. The group had a simple answer.
"We were like, 'Love is free - why shouldn't this be free?' " she said.
Some of the people they served had problems with Christianity because of abuses they'd encountered in the past. Some had little experience with faith at all. But almost all of them appreciated the service Club Outreach offered - and the spirit behind it. A few even showed up at church services later.
Even though JoAnna loved St. Aldate's, some of its traditions were markedly different from her own church experience. Using liturgical prayer was one big hurdle she had to overcome. At first, she couldn’t see how reading someone else's words could be relevant or meaningful when talking to God. But over the course of a semester, her point of view began to change.
"I ended up really liking it," she said. "You read it and you're like, 'Wow. This really came from somebody’s heart.' "
And one of her favorite parts of the entire trip was connecting with other Christians halfway across the world - both in Oxford and on her travels.
"It's really cool to be connected to the Christian body when you're across the world," she said.
She needed that sense of connection and stability as she juggled travel, schoolwork and the desire to explore Oxford. There never seemed to be enough time in the day to do everything she wanted. One of the hardest parts was keeping in touch with those she left back home.
"[It was hard] finding a time to talk to my parents," she said.
But over three and a half months, she somehow found time to learn about C.S. Lewis in class, visit Magdalen College, eat at a local restaurant called The Eagle and Child, and travel to Scotland and Ireland. She toured the Beatty Library in Dublin, went to Evensong at St. Patrick's Cathedral, saw Edinborough Castle, and discovered that some Scottish men really do wear kilts. She even tried some adventurous new foods - with great results.
"Haggis was so good!" she said.
Lessons in life
But most of all, JoAnna found that a semester abroad gave her life lessons as well as memories.
"You realize a lot about God - and yourself," she said.
And if she could give future students one bit of advice, she knows exactly what it would be. "Pay attention to people, and don’t just stay in your little ACU bubble."
She would know.
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About 25% of a graduating class will have had the adventure of a lifetime through an ACU study abroad program.
ACU in Oxford resident director Dr. Ron Morgan documents a faith-based study abroad experience in his new book. Learn more >>