EMU Cross-Cultural

Cultural arts at Vijnana Kala Vedi

India 4I arrived in India just over one month ago. Since that time I have seen many things and learned a lot about both India and myself. Our extensive travelling during the first few weeks led me to be extremely excited for arriving at Vijnana Kala Vedi, a cultural arts center here in Kerala, where our group is in the middle of our three week stay. At the VKV we are all taking Hindi classes and an additional class of our choice. I chose to study the classical Indian dance, Mohinyattam (The Slow Dance of the Seductress), which definitely forces me far out of my comfort zone! Hindi is a challenge as well, and I found it difficult at first to get back into the “school” mode. Our teacher Nisha Jee always encourages us to go faster and learn more!

Kerala DiningLife at the VKV is very relaxing. Whether I am sitting on my balcony reading a book or playing games in the evening, I feel calm and peaceful. The people here are so kind and it has been fun to get to know them. One of the great things here are the meals. Eating off of banana leaves with my fingers is a lot of fun, especially when the food is some of the best on the trip thus far!

This past weekend our group spent time on houseboats, cruising down the backwaters of Kerala. I had a lot of fun, and can’t wait to go on a houseboat again! It seemed almost surreal to be floating along the canals, lined by palm trees and rice paddies, but that is how my time has been so far. I am not sure when it will completely sink in that I am in India. This country never ceases to surprise, amaze, or confuse me, but I am coming to love it more everyday. Even as I miss people and things at home, my appreciation for this complex culture and diverse people is growing stronger and deeper with each new experience I have.

-Lara Gautsche

Woodcarving After three weeks of constant traveling, it feels good to finally have some time to slow down and think. My week has been relaxing and therapeutic thanks to a slower pace of life and my cultural lessons in woodcarving. I enjoy relieving my stresses as I patiently carve every day,

but at this point I still feel like an infant hitting blocks with a hammer. I enjoy watching the woodcarving guru, accurately described as an Indian Groucho Marx, quickly and carefully chisel away at his masterpiece until the chunk of 2 x 4 becomes a folding table and chairs. I don’t anticipate becoming a phenomenal woodcarver, but I will definitely have a deeper appreciation for the complicated art.

The other class I’m taking, required of all the cross cultural students, is Hindi. Needless to say, the idea of learning a language in three weeks is daunting. It’s easy to feel resentful towards the teacher, Nisha Jee, for the strenuous class time and lengthy homework, but we are actually learning quite a lot in a very short time. Hopefully I can retain more that one language…

At times I felt discouraged during the week, but the thought of the upcoming weekend propelled meHouseboat Driving through. On Saturday morning, we left the Vijnana Kala Vedi and spent the day floating down the river on houseboats. I was pleased that the boats were a little more accommodating and safe than the Huckleberry Finn rafts I imagined. However, the newspaper on board with an article about the recent sinking of a houseboat was unnerving. When the boats docked along the riverside for the night, I opted out of sharing a double bed with two large men and chose to sleep outside on a padded bench. Thankfully, morning arrived with all boats above water and no students suffering from excessive gasoline inhalation. As all weekends seem to end, the group was not looking forward to the responsibilities of the week ahead.

In case I haven’t made it clear, I’m having a great time at the V.K.V. and on the trip as a whole. The amazing people and incredible sights are quickly making this trip the experience of a lifetime.

-James Hall

Reports from Southern India

India 3Being in Southern India has been a pleasant change. The weather is hot, there are palm trees everywhere, we can actually see the countryside, the people are friendly and we eat with our hands off of banana leaves. The past week has been very eventful. In the city of Guruvayoor, we saw a Theyyam, which is a Hindu religious festival At this particular Theyyam, a man jumped into a pile of burning coals face first over 100 times. I think he wanted to quit sooner. But the people in the crowd kept cheering him on.

Home Stay Family Later in the week, we went to our home stays in Mala. The Kandam Kaluthy household was very energetic. The house was owned by the grandfather and was shared with his son and his wife and kids. Three or four aunts and uncles were also staying at the house during our stay, in order to help our and make our stay more enjoyable. One of the little kids, Paul, was a lot of fun to play with. He would often take Bryce’s camera and take over 70 pictures in a 20 minute period.

During the days we worked in the rice fields and in the evenings we either went to a cultural show put on by the community or we played soccer against the local team.

On our last morning, a few of us got up at 6:30 to go to church with the family. Even though the entire service was in Malayalam, it was a great opportunity to see a group of people who live on the other side of the world worshipping God in their own way.

-Jeff Swartzendruber

Plowing the Field We awoke on Sunday morning at 2 a.m. to prepare for our early morning flight from New Delhi to the city of Kanur in Southern India. We made our refuge at a local resort style hotel. Unfortunately for me, I became sick on Monday and for half the day I remained at the hotel. My peers on the other hand went to an early morning theyyam (Hindu festival). That afternoon, however, I finally felt better, which let me go with the group to the beach.

On Tuesday, we visited St. Angelo’s Fort, built by the Portuguese. The weather there seemed at the time to be the hottest and the most humid that I have ever felt. This much heat on a January morning made me wonder how soldiers could have survived here in the summer months. We also visited a weaving factory where the workers make clothing and other goods in a pre-Industrial Revolution fashion.

Wednesday, we got on the road again to head for the city of Guruvayoor, after seeing master workers make pottery. The following day, we visited the world’s largest Krishna temple, also located in Guruvayoor. Then we headed to a small village for our home stay and worked in the rice paddy fields. Planting Rice No longer were we just tourists, but we were farmers planting rice in a traditional manner. We used water shovels, water wheels, water buffalo and hoes to plant our field. As a result we got cuts, blisters and sunburns. But at the end, we planted a rice field! I should also say that I have never spent so much quality time in a watery mud pit-not even my nights of frog hunting come close!

Our host and hostess were amazing while we were farming. They provided us with entertainment, including performances of Keralan dances and songs. We presented Mennonite hymns as a form of cross-cultural exchange.

-Jonathan Lamb

“There’s so much to think about…”

So I’ve been thinking about the whole idea of Syncretism, Catholic vs. Evangelical, and the ongoing process of change within the Church here, as Rafael was talking to us about yesterday. I’m kind of struggling with it all. Is all syncretism bad? Is my belief a result of syncretism? It doesn’t seem like it, because the Anabaptists back in the day broke away from the Catholic norm, not conformed to it. But then, throw in culture and who knows what, and it seems like everything in this world is syncretism, even me. Everything except for Jesus Christ. He was pure and spotless. Maybe that’s what it means… in this world but not of it. He wasn’t synchronized to anything else. Hm.

And then there’s the whole Catholic-Evangelical battle that’s been going on, really since the 1870′s or earlier. Was that a good divide? It has created such competition and rejection among churches, but yet it allowed for a growth of faith, a mission-oriented stance, and more separation of the (Catholic) Church and State. Do I totally reject the stance of the Catholic Church and their dual focus on Jesus and Mary? Or do I take communion with them? In Italy, any sign of the cross meant being part of the Catholic Church, and any time there was a Catholic parade or activity, all the Evangelicals stayed inside. Within the matter of a week or two, Rafael gives an interesting talk on the Mennonite Church involvement in Guate.I moved in with a Catholic family, attended a Catholic Peace March, and took communion in a Catholic church. I am torn about what I should accept, what I should take a stance on, and then, there’s Rafael’s questions yesterday…

What is the reign of God? How closed is too closed to allow the reign of God?

There’s so much to think about, but I am excited to keep learning and asking questions.

Climbing the Fuego Volcano

Latin America 4Rolling through Antigua this weekend was quite amazing. Even though the country of Guatemala is roughly the size of Ohio, it contains over 30 volcanoes, which are enormous. When I actually (more or less) reached the top of Fuego, I realized how drastic the country really is, in terms of geography. You drive from the busy, huge, smelly, metropolis of Guatemala City, hike a few hours up a mountain, and it seems as though you are in a completely different world.

We were drenched and sweating as we hiked 5-6 hours up to the base camp (from 4,500 ft to 10,000 ft), surrounded by jungle trees. But up on top, another 1 ½ hrs and 2,300 ft later, it was windy, and freezing, completely barren. View of volcano Agua, from above the clouds.There was nothing growing. All I could see was rocks. However, looking out across the landscape, I was met with a wonderful sight. Colossal volcanoes, covered in clouds, towering over the rest of the valley. I have never seen anything as awesome. And that is only one small fraction of the country. There are dozens more volcanoes, mountains and ridges that cover the countryside.

If we compare this country to the United States, we have similar geography, with the same mountains, forests, and beaches. However, our country is 100 times the size, maybe larger. It’s amazing that so little a country can contain so much. This weekend taught me a lot about perception as well. The volcano, from distance, looked like a piece of cake to climb, but it challenged my limits as I struggled all the way to the top. Even from our campsite, the top seemed a short hop away, but boy was I wrong.

Two journal entries from India


India 2

On January 20, our group arrived in Kolkata. As I stepped out of the train station, my first impression was that this was the most polluted place I had ever been. At that point, I wasn’t very excited for our stay. Looking back, however, the things we saw made it the most memorable place we’ve been.

We did the usual tourist things, as we saw Queen Victoria’s Memorial and the beautiful botanical gardens. But what really impacted me was visiting the different organizations.

First, we visited the Missionaries of Charity, seeing Mother Teresa’s house and the homes that she started for the dying and orphans. The orphanage had places for malnourished babies, orphans with mental or physical disabilities and orphaned babies. It was heartbreaking to see all of these kids, but also inspiring to see how Mother Teresa’s organization could help so many children. We had fun playing with the children and some even cried when we left.

Next, we went to MCC India and learned about the various things they do, including natural disaster relief, food distribution, AIDS/HIV education, and providing schooling for children.

The final place we visited was called Ankur Kala. It was started by a fairly well-off Indian woman who wanted to help other women. Not only does she teach them trades such as batik, catering and sewing, but she also teaches them basic math, literacy and business managing skills. The women sell their products in their store as well as through organizations such as Ten Thousand Villages. The women at Ankur Kala include Christian, Hindu and Muslim women; they all worship together, however. It was exciting to witness all these women put aside differences to pray for common goals.

After leaving Kolkata, I felt inspired because although this is a city with extreme poverty, it is also a place where God is truly working through organizations such as Missionaries of Charity, MCC and Ankur Kala.

-Vanessa Landis

Kerala Beach SunsetNamaste! The soul in me bows to the soul in you. I have yet to use this profound greeting in a social setting, but regard it as beautiful. It is performed by bringing the palms of one’s hands together across the chest and bowing slightly-a gesture symbolizing the connectivity of body and mind and the universal “oneness” of humankind.

There was a gentleman whose name I, regrettably, cannot remember, who approached me after I gave my speech of thanks at the Homecoming Donor Banquet in October to share his thoughts on my upcoming trip to India. He told me that above all else, India is colorful. And he was most assuredly right. He did not, however, describe how utterly vibrant the colors of India actually are! How truly vivid are they that swirl across the saree’d bodies of Hindu women; so majestic are the shades that are strewn across buildings and blazoned on billboards; how luxuriously are the green gardens spotted with brilliant purples, ochres, crimsons, yellows, indigos, violets, blues and oranges!

Yet, more beautiful than all the subcontinents’ colors are her people. Each and every human being that inhabits this breathtaking country is unique in countless ways-they are hospitable, generous, loving, overly curious, bold, persuasive, and are unafraid of violating the personal bubble we Americans place around ourselves to ask for a picture. We’ve caused quite a ruckus with our presence, let me assure you!

Let me conclude by saying; whether the grand monuments, the vivid colors, the delicious food, or the people themselves, India fascinates me beyond belief. I truly love it here and cannot wait to be a part of the experiences yet to come.

-Braydon Hoover

Mayan Culture

Latin America 3I think you can learn a lot about a group of people by the way they dress and by what food they eat. This occurred to me as I read about the Mayan people. It was very interesting to read about their farming and cornfields. “If there are no tortillas served, you have not eaten a meal.” I thought that showed just how much they use tortillas. It was pretty amazing to read about how many things they make from corn and that everyone grows it. Even though the dollar output would be better if they grew vegetables, they produce corn because it is a reliable source of nutrition. Also, a cornfield is not just made up of corn, the list kept growing of things grown in a cornfield.

At the museum we visited last week it was really neat to see the progression of the Mayan’s clothing. Those people are really good at making clothes and finding plants to dye the fabric. I think it is good that they didn’t conform too much to the Spanish in terms of clothing. They really value their history and traditions. I think it is important to realize where each of us came from and have something to remember that by. In the reader it said how the Mayans Aerial view of the Mayan ruins.dress to set themselves apart from the rest of Guatemala. Although we do not dress like our ancestors, I’m glad to see that people cherish their history.

The writing on the historical sources of Catholic power also intrigued me. In the 1800′s here the church used to hand out mortgages and collect the interest on them. Being a business major I’m trying to keep in touch with the current issues. In the current economic crisis you hear all these different companies being affected, but I have not heard the church’s name in the midst of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It just seems very odd to me for the church to have acted as a bank. I have never heard of that happening before so I just can’t picture what it was like for them to be in control of land and mortgages. If I knew more about the history of banking this may make more sense. If someone or something has money, they also have power and leverage. They can get things done and control what happens. The Catholic Church had money and so in-hand came power.

Two journal entries from Guatemala

2009 Latin America 2There is so much suffering all around me here. Actually, today was the first time I thought maybe Guatemala is not as ‘broken’ as I thought, but rather I am looking through a magnifying glass at how broken humanity is in general. I remember the night our Guatemalan group visited Guana Chapi. I’ll never forget the overwhelming since of suffering I came away with from there. The three families told their stories in very fluid Spanish-but I kept seeing this girl. She worked for the restaurant, but was constantly watching our group. My heart just kept going out to her for some reason. Finally I asked her where she was from and it was as if I gave her mouth a key and turned it for her. She told me how she was from El Salvador and that she came illegally across the border to live with her uncle. She left her entire family and country because of economic reasons. I think she saw everyone telling his or her stories and after feeling so much suffering herself, just wanted someone to ask her about her story. I was blessed with her openness, but I was again burdened with the suffering of many that I cannot begin to understand. Yet somehow, still people come to America. How can I be a light to people here? Again, I feel as if there is a call on my life to-hah-break down walls, to discover stories and give them a voice. I have this longing for this girl to know Jesus-and to learn to know Lisa. Perhaps she could connect with her well and begin to find a community. Perhaps she would find the hope of Jesus, or the reassurance of faith.

So many immigrating to America-and why? Vernon and Jim talked about the colonization of Central America and how as a result, now Central America has problems with connecting some communities because of the way roads were built towards the ports and not between cities. Countries in Central America definitely have a hard position to try and become economically stable countries. They have become stuck in cycles of debt, taking loans, increasing industry, but hurting the poor guy-who then, in desperation causes deforestation, hurting the environment and possibly causing mudslides, which ends up killing people and destroying efforts to increase the economy in the country.

Are we “destined”-I hate that word-to be a victim of our homeland? If someone is born in Guatemala, are they sucked into the suffering cycles we heard about in our classes and from the immigrant families? Monika and Amy with their teacher Marta. If born in America, do we automatically have the freedoms we are allowed and seek after the ‘American Dream?’ Similarly, faith. If a person is born in a Christian home, are they going to become a Christian more likely than the child born to Buddhists? How do we handle the cards dealt us, or the plans God has for us? I am blessed, I realize that. How do I be thankful and not feel guilty? Goodness. Maybe thankfulness and gratitude is the seed of passion, which love waters until a blooming passion springs forth with new life.

-Monika Burkholder

Julian, Lorena and Mitzye.

In some ways it’s hard to believe that only two weeks have passed on our cross-cultural time. Our time has been filled with much learning through lectures, field trips, time with our host families and being in Guatemala City. This last week was full of many adventures that were invaluable experiences. On Tuesday our group was privileged to hear from Hector Castañeda. He told our group about the last 70 years of history in Guatemala. His insights into the culture and consequences of the history shone through his words and personal experience. Guatemala has suffered much and continues to deal with the consequences even now. His words evoked many questions from our group and we could have talked with him for much longer.

A mausoleum next to niches, two different ways of burying loved ones in the Guatemalan cemetery. Wednesday afternoon was our free afternoon for the week and the group was kept busy with a short meeting in the early afternoon followed by time doing homework, quick trips across the street to Novicentro and basking in the warmth of the sun. On Thursday afternoon our group piled into a bus to visit the Cemetery in Zone Three where we split into small groups. The cemetery is split into small roads with endless lines of tombs. For the rich they build large tombs and they are often adorned with the riches of the deceased and fresh flowers left by their loved ones. For those who cannot afford these tombs there are large walls for the mass burials. Each grave is marked with a plaque giving the name and dates of birth and death. After our small group scavenger hunts we met back as a group and visited five significant memorials within the cemetery as a way of discussing the history of Guatemala.

After our learning in the cemetery we walked to the back of the cemetery, which overlooks the city dump. I don’t think I was quite prepared for the vultures, smells, and overwhelming amount of stuff that was in the dump. SO many people work in the dump to make their livings. Our group watched a movie on Friday afternoon about the people who work there. For them, it is their survival. They don’t want the dump to close because that would mean they would lose their jobs. The implications of all the issues surrounding the dump amaze and sadden me.

On Friday our group met in the afternoon for debriefing. We discussed some of the issues we were faced with this week and ended with a time of worship together. As our voices lifted together in song to sing ¨Juntos Como Hermanos¨ and a praise and worship song we were joined together.

Students enthuse over President Obama's inauguration. Tuesday, the 20th we gathered in the cafeteria at CASAS during our break from Spanish classes to watch the inauguration of President Obama. Occasionally the live streaming would break up, but we did get to see him sworn in and heard all of his speech. There were Guatemalans gathered with us watching as well. Even in Guatemala this event was much anticipated and brought hope. Our group has grown immensely through our short time here and I look forward to seeing how we continue to grow together.

-Peyton Erb

First impressions of India

Week 1It’s pretty hard for me to believe that I have only been in India for one week. It seems so much longer ago that we all said our goodbyes and boarded the bus at EMU. In that week so much has happened!

I have seen the awesome beauty of some of the world’s most magnificent buildings, the Taj Mahal and the Agra fort. I have watched countless brilliantly colored prayer flags blow in the wind at Buddhist temples. I have witnessed an energetic Hindu ceremony dedicated to the Mother Ganges from a boat on the Ganges itself. These sights have all been awesome and exciting, but I’ve also seen less pleasant sights.

I have seen poverty and hunger. I have felt a begging child’s hand tapping my sleeve. I have seen run-down huts and people sleeping on the streets. I have really come to realize how blessed I truly am and how much I have taken for granted.

Sari Shopping India is beautiful, hospitable, and interesting and I am learning so much about not only this culture but I’m also learning about myself! I can’t wait to see what else this trip has in store for me with learning more about the language and religions, interacting with the people, and continuing to grow closer to this group of students that is quickly becoming a family.

Una Marcha de Paz - A March for Peace


Play video

“Juntos como hermanos,
miembros de la iglesia
vamos caminando
al encuentro del Senor.”

Together as brothers and sisters,
members of the church
we gather together
to meet with God.

Words of a Catholic gathering song. Words of peace. But this time it’s not just words, it’s action as well. Today, our group had the opportunity to witness and be a part of an unprecedented stand against the rising violence in Guatemala City. Una Marcha de Paz – A March for Peace. Four groups marched from four different Catholic locations in the city to the plaza at the center at 4pm.

2009 LA 1Before long the plaza was filled with 10,000 people singing and declaring in solidarity that they desire peace. Cardinal Quezada spoke and gave the mass. Our group was unable to stay for the entire thing but we were impacted by what we were a part of. There were people from all parts of the city – young and old, indigenous, mestizos and ladinos – all wearing white, carrying banners, waving flags and singing songs of peace.

So often back home I hear talk of peace and justice and its importance today, but it feels disconnected from the daily reality of our world. Many times in my Spanish classes with Don Clymer we talked about the desperation, injustices and violence in Latin America. We read articles and discussed the problems and our desires for peace. But it is disheartening when it doesn’t feel like there is anything we can do besides hope and pray. And often times that has to be enough.

To actually witness a stand for peace and be a part of it today was an incredible experience. Several times I was moved to tears. I know that God heard his people today and that gives me hope for Guatemala City and for peace.

Reflections on returning to Spain

Spain/Morocco6For the past three weeks our group has been living in the vibrant country of Spain once again after spending five weeks in Morocco. The minute I stepped onto Spanish soil only a few kilometers from the African continent I instantly felt more relaxed, and as we drove up to the small town of Montoro that same day I noticed many stark differences between the two countries. I thought since we already lived in Spain for four weeks in September that going back would be non-eventful, but I seriously felt as if I was experiencing a cross-cultural all in itself by just going back to Spain. I saw more modern technology such as windmills, organized traffic patterns, and modern cars, and I watched the lush green landscape fly by in our spacious extended bus that we never had in Morocco. Some of these observations may not seem very different to an American reader, but after living five weeks in a third-world country such as Morocco they are.

The arches of the Mezquita Catedral in Cordoba. In Montoro we’ve been taking two classes with one dealing with the Muslim influence in Spain and the other about discussion between Muslims and Christians in today’s world. Along with these two classes we’ve taken field trips to Córdoba, Medinat az-Zahra, an oil museum, and most recently, Granada to reinforce and enhance what we’re learning in class. The Islamic empire’s history in Spain is rich and fascinating, and I’ve enjoyed learning about it in both the classroom and through my own eyes. Sometimes I’ve actually put myself in the story and imagined what life would have been like in that time.

The group enjoys a Thanksgiving feast. Back at home our group has been living all under the same roof making meals for each other, cleaning up after each other, and just having fun. Even though we’ve spent the past three months together, living together in the same house has been a different experience with its own joys and challenges, but we’ve settled in rather nicely. In the next week, we have some final presentations and essays to complete, a workshop on Islamophobia, and a trip to Sevilla before packing and heading home on December 8.