Attending Seminary Means Living In a Foreign Land

When I went to seminary, it entailed a move from Florida to Texas. There was a shift in geography, but there was also a shift in culture-a pretty dramatic shift, as anyone who’s moved to Texas will probably tell you.

I grew up in South Florida. I was a native Floridian, which was pretty unusual. In my 9th grade class of 30 students, for instance, only two of us were actually born in Florida. The rest were transplants. Consequently, there wasn’t much of a unique Floridian cultural identity. Mix the Old South, Yankee transplants, immigrants from Mexico & the islands… it was a mish-mash culture, and not a particular source of pride for any of us.

Then I got to Texas. Sweet Moses, was it different! Texas pride-which I still fail to fully understand-was everywhere.

  • “Everything’s bigger in Texas.”
  • “Everything’s better in Texas.”
  • “Texas is the best.”
  • “I [heart] Texas.”

Everywhere you turned, there was this rampant Texas nationalism. I wasn’t really offended by it… I just didn’t get it. I looked around and thought to myself, “Yeah, this is nice and all, but c’mon, people.”

One of my Texas friends, a 300 pound air conditioning repairman, said to me once, (just imagine the accent):

“I don’t know why anyone would want to live anywhere else but Texas. Everything you want’s right here.”

I asked him, “Have you ever been anywhere else?”

He replied, “Well, I went to Arkansas once.”

Now, this is not meant to be an anti-Texas screed; I actually really enjoyed my time there. My point is that moving to seminary means moving. It means, in most cases, a different place with a different culture.

Now the consolation, for many, is that the move is temporary. In most cases, you’re not going to settle down and live there at seminary forever, though I’m sure that happens occasionally.

It was interesting to me to see how people responded to the (temporary) culture shift. There was a significant group of people-usually married-that did not really settle into living in Texas. Most notably, they didn’t make friends while they were there. They seemed to keep all their relationships intentionally superficial.

The attitude was: “I don’t like it here, but I’m living here because I have to. So I’m just going to bide my time for (insert timeline; 2-3 years) until I can go back home where people are (insert attitude: better, normal, smarter, etc.).” In my observation, it was more often not the seminary student with this attitude, but his or her spouse.

(I’m curious, incidentally, if that was just unique to my experience, or if students in other places see this happening. I’ll look for your comments below.)

So this brings me to this word of exhortation: while you’re at living at seminary, live! It may not be home for you, but your real home is in heaven anyway. (Philippians 3:20) Even in your hometown, you should be living as a stranger and an alien (1 Peter 2:11)

The exiles from Jerusalem didn’t enjoy living in Babylon (see for example Psalm 137!), but the command to them in Jeremiah 29 was to settle down, build houses and gardens, start families. In other words, live!

According to the scriptures, God “determines the times set for us and the exact places that we should live.” And he does this, the scriptures say, “so that men will reach out for him and perhaps find him.” I understand that to mean that as an agent of God’s kingdom, wherever I’m living, there are people God sovereignly puts in my relational sphere so I can influence them for His purposes, and vice versa.

So live while you’re at seminary. Settle into the local culture. Do all the things you would do to have a normal life… including making friends.

6 Replies to “Attending Seminary Means Living In a Foreign Land”

  1. Mark:

    I fully understand your Texas culture shock. We went through it 5 years ago on a corporate relocation to the Dallas area. I was a born and bred New Yorker. I told someone at the time thast a move from NY to TX was as close to an international move a boy from NY could do without leaving the country.

    But it is nice to see people pround of their heritage. No one rides around with the flag of New York, city or state, on their car.
    We love it here now, do not want to go back to northeast. Made great friends. Became Christian. Started seminary here a few months ago.

    We will always have New York in our blood (and our accents!). But we love Texas as well.
    Anyone coming down here; keep an open mind and heart. If you do, you will be pleasantly surprised.

  2. Boy did this post strike a nerve! I have been in this new country called Dallas, TX for my husband to begin seminary for 10 days now. He is used to moving around all over the world since he grew up as an Army brat. But for me, this is my first time out of Orange County, California. This is the first time I haven’t lived within 20 minutes of my entire family. This is the first time I have lived somewhere that doesn’t have a Trader Joe’s!

    It’s so tempting to choose not to adjust, and just count the days when life will return to what you are familiar with. I know for me it will be a conscious decision to immerse myself in this new adventure despite it not being anything close to familiar to me.

    Thank you for the reassurance that I am not alone in this life adjustment!

  3. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I moved from Georgia to post-Katrina New Orleans. WOW! What a major culture shift. I find it hard to make friends in the first place, but, living here has made finding friends even more difficult. Most all the people I have gotten to know are from the seminary. I moved off campus which has helped in finding people who do not have convictions that are too strong on subjects that they know very little about. I am sure that elicits some A-mens from those of you living on a seminary campus.
    Thanks for the thoughts.

  4. I have been here in New Orleans both before and after “the Storm” and I have seen the attitudes of many students change. Before the storm many seemed to be very comfortable moving to New Orleans and seeing nothing of it for three years other than the seminary campus and the Wal-Mart out in the ‘burbs. Granted, there are still many students that feel and act this way, but there seems to have been a shift since Katrina with both new and older students wanting to be a part of New Orleans, to be in the community reaching the people for Christ. This is a welcome change and I hope that we’ll see it at other seminaries as well, and that it won’t take a natural disaster to make it happen. The best advice I can give on the subject is that if you can.. Live Off Campus!

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