CROSS-CULTURAL EXPERIENCES ENLIGHTEN BLUFFTON STUDENTS
From poverty and immigration to service and language, cross-cultural experiences from last spring left Bluffton University students with eye-opening memories.
Recounting some of them at two campus forums on Sept. 27 were nearly 20 of the 146 Bluffton students whose experiences took them in May and June either to Bolivia, Botswana, Chicago, China, France, Paraguay, San Antonio or Trinidad.
The group that went to San Antonio, and south to the Mexican border, had a "life-changing" experience, said Chalsi Eastman, a senior from Norwalk, Ohio.
Students saw the affluence of San Antonio’s River Walk area juxtaposed against poverty nearby, she said. They also visited the city of McAllen, at the southern tip of Texas, where more poverty was evident, and "colonias," low-income communities near the border.
On many evenings during the students’ stay in Texas, they talked with residents about local issues, including immigration, Eastman said. Among the topics was the DREAM (Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, proposed federal legislation under which qualifying, undocumented youth would be eligible for a six-year conditional path to citizenship.
At the border, the Bluffton students also saw the wall that is doing little to stem the flow of drugs and illegal immigrants into the United States, Eastman added, as well as immigrants being treated badly.
Service was part of the students’ experience, too. In San Antonio, they helped at several sites, including an elementary school, a food bank and a community center, noted senior Mark Herge from Elida, Ohio.
The 10 students who traveled to Trinidad also did some work, for Mennonite churches on the southern Caribbean island. They built a relationship with the churches, said Samantha Lawrence, a senior from Harrod, Ohio, and learned how Mennonites on Trinidad live their faith.
"Serving God in a land of contrasts" was the theme of the experience in Bolivia—and what the Bluffton students did.
The group went to Compassion International, a Christian child advocacy ministry, and visited with children supported by people all over the world. Campus pastor Stephen Intagliata also introduced the students to his sponsor child, Danielle.
For some of the students, the children were easier to interact with than Bolivian adults. "All the kids wanted to do was have fun, which helped break down culture and language barriers," recalled senior Bethany Bowman of Piqua, Ohio.
In addition to disparity between wealth and poverty, students who went to France saw a "fear and dislike" of resident Muslims comparable to what some Americans feel when they’re near the homeless—a fear of the unknown, according to Matt Weisenborn, a sophomore from Bowling Green.
Language was a recurring theme for student speakers whose cross-cultural experiences were in Botswana, China and Paraguay.
"We rose with the roosters," said Eli Tracy, discussing his group’s daily activities in Botswana. Students spent their days with host families, except for the three-hour Setswana language class with the group each morning. But most of their actual language learning took place with their hosts, Tracy pointed out. "Most of our ‘language class’ was around campfires at night with our families," said the senior from Continental, Ohio.
In China, "we were flabbergasted by their ability to speak English fluently," said Jacob Alexander. The Bluffton students met Chinese eighth graders who already had a good grasp of the language, the senior from Hillsboro, Ohio, pointed out.
"We were really dependent on their English-speaking skills," added Alex Woodring, a senior from Sherwood, Ohio. With only a week of lessons in the Mandarin Chinese language—and other aspects of Chinese culture—before their travels, the students’ Mandarin "was limited, to say the least," he said.
But beyond language and other "surface differences," Americans and Chinese "have a familiar family dynamic," Woodring maintained. Americans could understand warm feelings conveyed between a Chinese mother and son, for instance, even if they didn’t understand their language, he explained.
Bluffton’s Camerata Singers, who traveled to Paraguay, quickly realized that many languages were spoken there. "Most people knew two or more languages," namely German, Spanish and some English, said senior Tim Yoder of Dalton, Ohio.
The choral group sang in many churches and homes, and even appeared on a national TV show. "Some of our favorite songs from home that we sang in different languages got better reception with the citizens in Paraguay than with Americans," Yoder noted.
Despite the language difference, the singers made an impact on the places they visited. "Singing brought us, regardless of language barriers, together under one roof," said senior Megan Schadle of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
Bluffton public relations, 9/29/11