Photos by Eric Brodersen and Katherine Landis
There is no place on earth that compares to the Middle East for experiencing the fascinating and volatile mix of religions, cultures and historical movements that have shaped the world. Beginning in Syria, with time in the neighboring countries of Lebanon and Jordan, living in Israel and the West Bank, and traveling to Greece and Rome, participants will be immersed in the ancient/ modern world of Jews, Christians and Muslims. Living in Palestinian homes in the West Bank, and studying, hiking, and serving from a base in Nazareth, and exploring ancient histories and current conflicts will provide an intense learning experience with the potential for life-changing insights into the Bible, world news, and yourself.
Discover the Beauty and the Culture of India
India is in South Asia and shares borders with Pakistan, China, and Nepal. The rugged Himalayan mountain range lies in the northern part of India while the southern tip consists of deserts, rain forests and relaxing beaches. India has a deep history dating back to 3200 BC when Hinduism was first founded. Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all are practiced in India. Each of these religions give a different perspective to one’s philosophy of life.
Come, learn and experience the culture of India.
- See the breathtaking views of the Taj Mahal as the sun sets while the dhobi (clothes washers) wash clothes in the river behind this glorious monument built for a loving wife.
- Visit with a villager scavaging the hillside for sticks in the forest to use for a fire to make dinner.
- Gaze upon the “Snows”—the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayan mountain range.
- Understand the importance of bathing in the Ganga (Ganges) River.
- Experience the generosity of the people who will graciously welcome you into their mud homes for a cup of Chai and a chance to talk with you.
- Visit and work at Mother Teresa’s organization in Calcutta working with the destitute.
Jheldi Chhello!! (Let’s go!)
Students will explore two contemporary global issues: increasing human mobility across national borders, and the urgency for learning intercultural skills in a global context.
One of the most heated issues in the U.S. – and the Shenandoah Valley – is the debate surrounding policies and attitudes towards immigrants, undocumented workers, and the crossing of national borders. Many of these immigrants come from Mexico and Central America. We will begin with an introduction to some of the tensions and realities of immigrants here in the Harrisonburg area, then spend several days at the Mexico/U.S. border witnessing this movement of persons and the many policy, human rights and economic implications that result, before continuing on to Central America.
In Guatemala, students will spend significant time with CASAS, a Spanish & cross-cultural study program. The first two months participants will live with families in Guatemala City while studying Spanish, along with culture, history and religious faith of Guatemalan society. In the final three weeks of the CASAS program, students will be placed with organizations throughout Guatemala for a service learning assignment. Options include working in settings that are tied directly to human migration issues as well as health clinics, women’s cooperatives, exporting businesses, appropriate technology centers, orphanages, or home construction.
In the final weeks the group will explore once again the issues of crossing borders, human mobility and will be asked to examine the changes in one’s worldview about immigration, human rights and economic implications of immigration after experiencing the realities of Central America.
For the past three days, our group has been on a trip to Toledo. In Toledo, we were able to see remnants of its Roman, Visigothic, and Moorish past. Toledo was a city of immense intellectual knowledge when it was a part of the Islamic empire and continued to be when the Christians reconquered the city. In addition to this more positive look back into Spanish history, many of us discovered some of the more disturbing parts of Spain’s past when we visited a museum about the torture devices used during the Inquisition. The items on display there made me wonder how someone could have used those horrifying instruments on another human being. Luckily, Toledo’s winding cobblestone streets and Christmas lights helped comfort me as I tried to focus on happier things.
Now that we are back in Montoro to finish our last week in Spain, the realization of how little time we have left here is finally hitting us. While the prospect of seeing our friends and family again is exciting, it’s going to be sad to leave here.
-Kate van der Zwaag
This past week, as with most of the weeks on this trip, has been interesting. Group dynamics always prove to be a source of interest, and it’s through our challenges with others in the group that help our relationships to mature. It’s scary thinking that soon I will be interacting with others outside this group— people who used to be similar will now feel foreign and different, but I’m hoping that feeling won’t last long.
Our past three days were spent in Toledo, which is an awesome town. They are world renowned for their sword making, and the better parts of my days there were spent with ‘Nagy’ and Ben talking about how sweet the swords are. We also got to visit the torture museum there, and while being disturbing, it was also fascinating in the fact that people could have actually used these devices on someone. It’s sad and sickening to see, but it’s real and is still happening, even if it’s not in the public eye.
Coming back from Toledo, we got a shock when we heard there was a landslide in our town that caused a road to be out of use. There had been lots of rain, and the river rose considerably (as I depicted), and has certainly done some damage.
All in all, an interesting week. There is excitement in the house for going home, but wanting to enjoy our last days to the fullest. Six days and counting.
I am thankful for opportunity—a nicer way of saying I am thankful for wealth. I guess it is not such a bad thing. Without it, this cross-cultural experience would not happen. Morocco is 126th out of 177 countries on the list of the Human Development Index which is based on life expectancy, literacy, and income. I wish I could say this low mark is not correlated with the level of happiness, but the number of homeless beggars and street fights I have seen would suggest otherwise. That being said, Morocco is richer in some aspects—such as hospitality and spirituality—than what I am used to. Money is a strange thing; we use it to go places to learn from people who don’t have much of it. In one of our classes on gender roles in Morocco our professor said to have a voice one needs education and money; it also helps if you are male.
I am thankful I am a man. I am aware of the disparities between men and women in western societies, but they really seem minute when compared to most of the Islamic world. Only within the last ten years have Moroccan women been given the right to divorce their husbands, have custody of their own children, and share ownership of property. I am glad I do not, like the girls in our group, have to wear long djellabas, long dresses, to try and disappear for fear of being harassed. I am able to walk by myself at night if I want to. Women in Morocco, according to our professor Fatima Sadiqi, have power but not authority. Authority is sanctioned power. Another professor of ours Dr. Fatima Amrani, made the case the Koran has been misinterpreted, or even fabricated, by male religious authority figures over the years to control and silence women. Many improvements have begun recently, for the rights of women in Morocco. No matter how many rights are gained, I’ve always thought myself lucky that I will never have to give birth.
I am thankful for a loving host family. My host mom laughs like my real mom. My thirteen year old brother Akram can be a handful (he is in our room now, playing with Jesse’s camera) but life would be dull without him. I am thankful for ignorance, probably in more ways than I want to know. The specific case that made me think of this was LAeed, a Muslim holiday when every family sacrifices a sheep. Our sheep went from breathing to on the dinner table in a matter of a few hours. If I had to watch the animals I eat die every time, I think I would eat fewer animals.
I am thankful Coca-Cola is sold worldwide.
So far I have had a great experience living in Fez. At first I felt a little uncomfortable and overwhelmed living with a Moroccan family. It took some time getting used to eating without utensils, community showers, and living with twelve people in a tiny apartment. Throughout our stay here I have learned about the generosity of Moroccan families. Our host family gave us the only bedroom in their house and have accommodated to our needs in many other ways. Over the past five weeks we have all grown closer and we feel like part of their family. Daily our mother reminds us that she no longer has four children but six. Also, they have included us in their family gatherings and we have met most of their family friends. We are even part of their family shopping trips in the Medina. With our limited Arabic vocabulary it is hard to communicate, and we often feel like helpless children. We have learned to communicate with our hand and have gotten good at playing charades.
Not only have we grown more comfortable with our host family, but we have adjusted to living in the Medina. No longer do we wake up to the 5am call to prayer and we are used to quickly getting out of the way when a horse comes up behind us in the narrow streets. Even though our stay in Fez is coming to an end, we are still keeping busy on the weekends. This past weekend we took a day trip to a lake and a forest outside the town of Ifrane. First, we enjoyed the beautiful fall scenery of Morocco while walking around a small lake. Then we went on a hike through a forest looking for wild monkeys. Near the end of our hike we saw the monkeys swinging from tree to tree and sitting on the branches.
After we saw the monkeys we had a picnic lunch in the cold and rain. Last we drove to a forest where many tourists go to see monkeys. At this forest we got to hand feed them bread and peanuts. They were not shy at all and one monkey even clung to my leg until I fed him. It was interesting to see some of the wildlife that exists in Morocco. Now we all look forward to our Moroccan style Thanksgiving meal and our trip back to Spain.
Like every other weekend we went on a trip to somewhere in Morocco. On this trip we went to Meknes and Volubilis. We stopped first at Volubilis which is the site of the largest Roman ruins in Morocco. An earthquake destroyed many of the walls but the arches and floor mosaics still remain. The Romans chose the spot for a reason; it was beautiful. We spent the rest of the day in Meknes. We went to a mosque, one of the only that will allow non-Muslims to enter. The other main important place in Meknes is a massive granary monument. It was apparently used for the King’s army horses that saved Morocco from invaders.
While that trip was an interesting part of our week, the highlight was the Festival of Sheep. This festival is extremely important to Muslims. The point of the festival is to sacrifice a sheep for the family like Abraham did, instead of sacrificing Ishmael. In the Muslim version of the story, Abraham was about to sacrifice Ishmael and not Isaac. Each family buys at least one ram (with all of its teeth) and sometimes a cow or goat in addition. Our family bought four sheep for the day. We will spare all the gory details, but our family did kill each of the sheep on our roof while we watched. Throughout this week, everyone will be eating basically all parts of the sheep. For the first day, we ate the liver and the heart, wrapped in stomach lining and the encasing of all the organs. We were surprised at how good it was in a sandwich with homemade bread. It was really fun to spend time with our host family, and everyone was really excited for the day. It reminded us of our Thanksgiving celebration. In fact, it wasn’t all bad as we thought it might be.
During the day it is normal for people to go and visit friends and family in their homes. Because it’s a holiday, people dress up in traditional clothes, especially when going to the mosque. People came to our house and it was really neat to see how the community works together. At one point during the day the neighbors came over with a man who was crying. He couldn’t afford to buy a sheep for the day. Because this holiday is so important, it is a big deal not to have a sheep and he felt terrible about it. So our family gave the man the extra sheep that they had bought the day before. We were really touched by this. We thought it is an example of how generous our family and people here are.
-Malea Gascho and Rebecca Martin
On Saturday we met out host families here in Fez. I didn’t realize how nervous I was until our names were being called and the group was dissipating quickly. Carrie Schlabach and I met our host brother, who miraculously spoke some English, and headed off to hail a taxi. Our bags were put on the roof of the taxi and we were off through windy streets to our new home for the next five weeks.
That night we had dinner with our host parents and our three host siblings; Yasser, Hanae, and Ayoub. Eating here is completely different than in the States. Nobody has their own plate or set of silverware, but instead there is a main dish with many small dishes surrounding it full of food that we grab with our fingers or with a small bite of bread. Another difference is that you do not use your left hand to eat, so tearing pieces of food can be somewhat challenging. Our family always makes sure that we get enough food and that we enjoy what we have been served.
Spending time with our family thus far has included watching American movies with Arabic subtitles and laughing together over our difficulties with communication. I have been told multiple times that I am one of the family. “I have five children,” my mother will say, “Yasser, Hanae, Ayoub, Carrie and Alyssa. You are all the same to me.” I feel completely comfortable with all of my family members after only this short period of time with them. Their hospitality is much to be thankful for.
Now on to our weekly schedule. On Tuesday we started Arabic class, which we will have four days a week for two hours every day. I can already tell that we are going to learn so many helpful words and phrases, and this makes me excited for future conversations with my family. Once a week we have an internship of sorts, some of the options being going to an orphanage, learning how to write Arabic calligraphy, and preparing and cooking a typical Moroccan meal. Each week we will sign up for one of the activities that we are interested in, knowing that in the weeks to come we will have the ability to experience each of the options if we so desire. This week I will be going to a nearby orphanage to play soccer with the children, and I couldn’t be more excited to bond with these people from a completely different culture and language than my own over a good game of soccer (despite the fact that I can’t wear my athletic shorts!).
Though there are many differences and possible struggles that I will face, I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to study abroad in Morocco. I have always been intrigued by the culture and the language, and now that I am here I’m trying my best to absorb everything that I can. As I write this, I am sitting on my bed in a house that I’ve only known for a few days. The sounds of the television and my Moroccan family speaking in Arabic are in the background, and all of this brings a huge grin to my face, I can only imagine what these next five weeks will bring.
Overwhelmed. If you asked me a few days ago when we first arrived in Fez how I was feeling, that would have been my answer. Morocco is unlike anything I have ever experienced, and Fez is a mass whirlpool of activity. In the stream of constant vendors and narrow streets, you can find anything from knock-off converse sneakers to camel heads. But that’s how the city is built-basically like a large market, or medina. This medina happens to be the largest one in the world of its kind. Basically, just imagine the set of Aladdin and multiply it by about a million, and there you go. Also, keep in mind that we live in this medina. Needless to say, Alyssa and I have gotten lost to and from our house on more than one occasion. Although, people here are more than willing to give you directions. Sometimes, they’ll even walk you there. We’ve definitely been shown kindness from strangers a lot and for that I’ve been very thankful.
My host family is amazing; Alyssa and I are one of the lucky ones whose family speaks pretty good English, but unlucky in the fact that we have squat pot, instead of full functioning western toilets. It’s alright…we’re learning techniques and we’ll be pros by the end of this. Plus, it’s all part of the experience, or that’s what I keep telling myself.
Despite all the differences in culture, there have been places where I have been able to find some common ground and small comforts that I have realized I have missed since being here. For example, we went to McDonald’s today after class, and it was awesome! Normally, I don’t really eat at fast food places, but just the fact that they are selling Big Macs here in Morocco, like they do back home in the U.S. feels comfortable and familiar when most other things scarcely ever feel that way here. McDonald’s is the place to go to get taxis when we go home from school, and usually it takes forever to get one to stop. It’s been a bit frustrating but so far we haven’t had to wait for more than half an hour, though, I wouldn’t be too surprised if this “guestimation” increases in the next few weeks.
One of the highlights of my time on cross cultural is just the group bonding I feel we’ve all done. For the last two months, these fellow EMUers have become my family. They cry, I cry type of thing. It’s been great getting to know everyone better, and I can only look forward to how these relationships will be strengthened by the time we fly across the pond (aka the Atlantic Ocean) back to campus.
This week in Morocco has been fun and interesting. My roommate Val Landis and I have been able to get more comfortable in our host house. The language barrier is still a huge damper on conversations but we manage. The younger girls help us with our homework and often try to quiz us on our vocabulary.
A huge learning experience is meal time. The most interesting meal of the week is on Friday. For lunch on Friday we have cous cous. Everyone gathers around the small table, all thirteen of us around a typical American coffee table sized table. The cous cous tagine in the middle, Val and I were given spoons, while most everyone else used their hands. They all reached over one another and packed cous cous together like one would a snowball. These cous cous balls were aimed toward their mouths but for the most part cous cous was being flung every different direction. To Val and I this seemed like total chaos and we were just sitting there almost laughing at the almost savage seeming meal. The meal was a ton of fun though with everyone talking and enjoying being together as a family.
I was startled by the different culture and their idea of manners. I had to take a step back and observe them from a different angle. After all who made the set idea of customs and whose customs are right and wrong? On this trip we have experienced two different cultures, both of them being very different, but neither of them wrong.
This past weekend we traveled to a small Berber village in the Atlas Mountains. Here we went hiking through a gorge and up a peak of the mountain range. The views were breath taking. The people from the place we were housed were sweet. They made us amazing food and helped us to feel comfortable. I learned about the old jobs that the women in the village did when there was no electricity. These consisted of making butter, grinding grain into powders, and weaving. The trip was an enjoyable experience even though most of us were sore from the hike and it was cold and very windy.
Classes at the center have been interesting. Arabic has been harder for me to catch on to but the teachers are great and very helpful. We have had several lectures, which were both interesting and informative. Learning about Islam and what it means to be a good Muslim has been insightful and helpful.
I feel that the most interesting experience for me in Fez, so far, has been the public baths. Our host family does not have a shower, so we go once a week, Sunday, to the baths. This experience was strange at first because all the women are in one room taking a bath out of buckets in a sauna like room all together. The elder women help the young girls with their hair and scrubbing their bodies. This is done as a sign of care, love and affection. The time at the baths is a time to meet with friends and chat about different things, even though I did not understand any of the chatting in Arabic. They all seem to really enjoy going to the baths and I came back feeling cleaner than I ever have in my entire life.
Life in Fez is new and I was culturally shocked at first. After the past week though I have felt a lot more safe and comfortable. I am enjoying being here with my huge Moroccan family. The food is amazing, even though it sometimes makes the tummy horribly upset. The people are nice and the shopping is fun and cheap. All in all I am having a great time in Fez and I think everyone else would agree on that too!
Our introduction to Morocco, while fascinating in itself, unfortunately felt very tailored to Western tastes. The ferry ride at sunset across the strait of Gibraltar was beautiful though–the shadow of Europe fading into an ever-darker distance, etc., but probably everyone in the group would agree it felt like we were only viewing a tourist-approved part of the country. However, since we arrived in Chefchaouen here in the mountains there has been a big change.
After a harrowing bus ride up and down and around the Rif mountains (During which we had to stop so the driver could descend into the depths of the bus and wrestle with some recurrently recalcitrant aspect of the drivetrain–we were told that some kids had stolen parts off the bus during the night…), we disembarked in the small city of Chefchaouen (“Look at the horns,” a Berber name referring to the surrounding mountains). Chefchaouen is blue. Predominantly, in color, I mean. Many of the buildings are painted blue for differing reasons depending on who you ask; the short answer is no one really knows why, and they continue to paint with this blue color because they always have. The city seems like it has physically grown out of the mountains–the buildings are odd, natural shapes, the streets are extremely narrow and have no pattern or logic other than to follow the shape of the mountain, there may be stairs at any point or a tunnel or a dead end… it’s not like any place I’ve ever been before. Added to the tranquil beauty of the surroundings, apart from a few disturbing exceptions, the people here are awesome. The prevailing attitude is refreshingly different; everyone is more relaxed, more friendly, more willing to talk about anything or nothing, than in many places I’ve been in the US. As I was leaving the shop of the Hat Man, promising to come back and buy a hat, the eponymous owner said in patient, sagacious tones, “You do, you don’t, it does not matter. This is your life–” (here he gestured at me) “–and this is mine (gesture at hats).”
Meeting the local students was a big surprise–in Spain we hardly met any Spaniards. It’s funny how impressed they are with us, just because we’re from the U.S., when in actuality we look like lazy slobs in comparison to these high school students who know three languages and study more in their spare time. It seems like their circumstances here impart a sense of urgency and drive to the youth towards education. Of course this may just be my skewed view based on the students who were selected for this exchange program, but still. I could write a lot more but it takes too long.
This has been one of the craziest and most unusual weeks of cross cultural so far, our crossing into Morocco. We finished our week in Sevilla, which was a good time, and then it was off to Morocco! I was excited and nervous to go, but we had all been looking forward to this. The travel was fun, and the ferry across from Gibraltar was the best. We got to spend most of the time out on the deck, even though the signs said not to, and played in the heavy wind and watched Africa get closer and closer. We landed in Ceuta, Spain’s city in Africa, and then crossed over to Morocco, where a beret wearing police officer got on the bus and checked our passports.
The next two nights we stayed in hotels in Tetouen and Tangier, and took tours of an old Medina marketplace and the coastlines, and saw some Moroccan entertainment. The morning we were leaving for Chefchaouen, where we would stay the week, we got on the bus and it wouldn’t shift. Apparently some boys had stolen some transmission cable, which must have some value here when resold. After another breakdown, we made it to Chefchaouen, a beautiful town in the mountains known for its houses with blue paint. We were all glad to finally get to the awesome house we stayed at all week, Dar Mesiana. Everyone was surprised to find that the week was mostly full of activities and that night we were going to meet some Moroccan students. They turned out to be around 15 or 16 years old, and they had been counting down the days to our arrival. This was somewhat awkward, because they had only just told us that we were even meeting them at all. The next day we went to their houses for lunch, and the food was good. We had a lot of activities this week, the most crazy being a hike to another village with a crazy SUV ride back. We also visited many non profit organizations. Some of us went to play basketball with the students, which turned out to be a full on match with their girls team, complete with jerseys.
Just everyday life here is so different from what we are used to. The way people dress is of course different, as well as the way they act, speak, do business, interact, and many other things. If you go near a shop, you never know what you might end up buying or whether the shopkeeper is a drug dealer or a medicine man from a Berber tribe in the desert. It is nice that everything is a little cheaper, which is helped by the exchange rate.
Probably one of the stranger shopkeepers is the hat man, who almost all of us have bought hats from. I sat with him as he modified some hats for me, and I learned many unusual things from him.
It is interesting to see the pros and cons of this society that is based heavily on the traditions of ancient tribes as well as the teachings of a religion that is relatively new to the land. This causes the people to seem hypocritical at times, which can be very frustrating. Hopefully our next weeks in Fez will be exciting learning experiences, and hopefully no one else gets sick.