Cross-cultural forum recap
Students share cross-cultural experience highlights
Expect the unexpected. That was the overarching message from Bluffton University students who shared stories of life-altering experiences from Guatemala, Washington, D.C., Ecuador, Jordan and Spain during several Cross-Cultural Forums held Feb. 6 and Feb. 13.
Bluffton students are required to receive cross-cultural education, either through a cross-cultural experience or through six semester hours of foreign-language credit.
“I personally found it extremely rewarding and an integral part of my college experience,” said Anna Cammarn, a double major in music and psychology from Akron, Ohio, who lived, studied and worked in Washington, D.C.
During the first Forum presentation, the eight students who spent the fall 2017 semester in Guatemala shared about their experiences. The group lived for the first nine weeks in Guatemala City, taking Spanish and Latin American history classes at Central America Study and Service (CASAS) which is affiliated with the Guatemalan Mennonite Church.
During the final month, the students were placed in separate community learning field assignments. The students were matched with organizations that reflected their majors and interests. The volunteer placements ranged from peace and restorative justice networks to job training organizations.
Dante D’Andrea, a business administration major from Lewis Center, Ohio, summed up the experience with the Spanish phrase “Tu eres mi major amigo,” or “You are my best friend.” He added, “This just seems like the best phrase to use to describe the people of Guatemala.”
Weekend excursions highlighted the vast differences between different parts of the country—from city life to historic cultural centers to the scenic countryside. “We visited some spectacular places. We hiked a volcano, visited ancient Mayan ruins, experienced a huge earthquake during our second week there, rode in a lot of tuk-tuks, took a kayak tour through the mangroves on a black sand beach,” explained Jarod Siekman, a math major from Delaware, Ohio. “We met all kinds of fantastic people.”
Some of the people the students became the closest to were their host families, who introduced them to everyday life in Guatemala. Many of the students did their homework right alongside their host brothers and sisters, ate traditional meals with them, played soccer in the streets with their friends and practiced their new Spanish skills with them.
Hanna Brian spoke of truly becoming part of her host family. “My parents Jorge and Karen were very welcoming, as was their extended family,” said the social work major from North Baltimore, Ohio. “The grandparents introduced me as one of their grandchildren, and while I was staying with the family, Jorge’s brother’s child was born. His brother Mario invited me into the hospital room, and I got to hold the new baby and got to feel like a part of the family.”
The participants returned to the United States shortly before Christmas. This was the fourth group of Bluffton students to take part in a semester in Guatemala.
Four students spent a semester at the Washington Community Scholars’ Center in spring 2017 with an additional four students spending the fall 2017 semester in Washington, D.C. Students from both semesters shared about their experiences.
“Coming from the small, safe confines of Bluffton, Ohio, all the way to the thriving and bustling city of Washington, D.C., was a culture shock,” said Cammarn. “Although it wasn’t across national boarder, the capital city is one that invites different cultures to interact.”
During the program, run by Eastern Mennonite University, participants live with other students from EMU and Regis University in a working-class, largely African-American neighborhood in D.C., while exploring the city, taking interactive classes on modern America and receiving professional work experience through internships.
Many of the students participated in marches and political events that took place during their stay and visited national monuments and museums during their free time.
“One of my favorite traditions from D.C. was that all of us in the WCSC program had dinner together on weekdays,” said Irena Xhari, a business administration major from Albania. “All of us had work in the morning, and in the evening we came together to share a meal and share our experiences from our internships.”
Several students also completed semester-long international experiences through programs such as Brethren Colleges Abroad. During a Feb. 13 presentation, students shared about their experiences in places including Ecuador, Jordan and Spain.
Malika Thompson, summed up the overall impact of her experience in Spain. “It opened up my mind. I gave me a broader picture of the world,” said the Spanish major from Cincinnati, Ohio. “It was hard at first, but I found myself there.”