Cross-cultural reflections

09/30/15

Students see Bluffton values in distant places

BLUFFTON, Ohio—Bluffton University students were reminded both of Bluffton’s enduring values and the unreliability of preconceived notions during cross-cultural experiences in the U.S. and abroad last spring.

Several students shared personal examples during the first of two Sept. 29 campus forums devoted to presentations about those experiences in May and June.

Alyssa Yoxtheimer, a junior from Findlay, Ohio, and Abby Jerger, a senior from Middletown, Ohio, pointed out how the university’s four enduring values—discovery, community, respect and service—were evident during their group’s experience in Kentucky and West Virginia with Mennonite Central Committee’s Sharing With Appalachian People (SWAP) program.

Participating students “never thought Bluffton values would be so relevant in an experience that only lasts two weeks, but we were wrong,” Yoxtheimer said. For example, she said they discovered new places, and beliefs, and had the privilege of serving families by helping with home repairs.

They also gained respect for Appalachia and its history—and for each other—Jerger added, and were welcomed by representatives of communities who were understanding and willing to help others in need as well.

“Getting to know the locals of McDowell County (W.Va.) was our favorite part,” Yoxtheimer said. She cited an 8-year-old girl who was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor at an early age but continues to tell her story, and a woman who lost everything in a 2002 flood but has recovered to run her own restaurant. “Not only was the food remarkable, but her story was inspiring,” she noted.

Preconceived notions were proven wrong and replaced by unforgettable memories not only in Appalachia but also, Matt Holden said, in China.

The senior from Convoy, Ohio, said he went there thinking Chinese people generally dislike Americans, but, in his experience, that “couldn’t be farther from the truth.” As evidence, he pointed to a pickup basketball game in which the crowd cheered every athletic move made by the American visitors.

Fellow senior Brock Goetz, from Graytown, Ohio, called his stay with a Chinese family “the most rewarding and insightful portion” of his experience. The relationships he developed were “absolutely irreplaceable,” Goetz said, explaining that his host family made him feel at home.

The selflessness and caring of people who didn’t know him previously put the enduring value of community in a new light, he said.

Another home stay, in Great Britain, was “one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” said Justina Fuqua, from Ada, Ohio. And one of her fellow travelers, senior Rebecca Juliana, acknowledged that another erroneous opinion, of the British being “hoity-toity,” was dispelled by the friendliness directed her way.

Fuqua, Juliana and Amanda Bartel represented the members of Bluffton’s Camerata Singers, who comprised most of the delegation that went to Great Britain.

Juliana, from Mechanicsburg, Pa., also credited the university’s cross-cultural program with allowing her to spend an additional 10 days in Ireland following the formal experience. “These are the kind of opportunities that Bluffton lays before you,” she told the student listeners in her audience. “Don’t be afraid to take advantage of them and experience the world in new ways.”

Meg Short, who was among the Bluffton group that went to Botswana, agreed. “Getting out of our comfort zones was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made,” the senior from Archbold, Ohio, said.     

One of her traveling companions in Botswana, senior Alicia Rodriguez, was named as a winner of the annual cross-cultural photo contest, which awards $100 to each of three students for their entries judged as either Best People, Place or Story photo.

A Rodriguez photo of the mother in her host family sorting beans won in the Best Story category, while juniors Rachel Keske and Rebecca Lapp placed first in the Best People and Best Place categories, respectively. Keske’s photo was of a small girl in a Bolivian market; Lapp won with a photo of Mayan ruins in Guatemala, where she spent last fall semester. Student photos from cross-cultural experiences will be displayed in Marbeck Center through Oct. 11.

To fulfill Bluffton’s cross-cultural requirement, students have two options in addition to the short-term, spring exploration of a different U.S. or foreign culture—the option chosen by 115 students who traveled to one of five states or five other countries in spring 2015. Alternatively, students may take two semesters of a language or study for a semester in Guatemala or Washington, D.C., or through other programs.

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These are the kind of opportunities that Bluffton lays before you,” senior Rebecca Juliana told student listeners about her cross-cultural experience in Great Britain. “Don’t be afraid to take advantage of them and experience the world in new ways.”
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