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On the Pacific Coast

18 May 2015

On the Pacific Coast

The first day we arrived in Uvita, Costa Rica and we had a more relaxed day on the beach. Many of the students were playing soccer, swimming in the ocean, and walking the beach. Several students had surfing lessons in the morning. After lunch at the Flutterby house, where we were staying, we hosted a soccer clinic at a Christian school in Uvita for children under the age of 14. There were three different stations where the kids learned passing, juggling, and teamwork skills.

Later, we went to a turtle reserve in Dominical, and learned about the different types of turtles in Costa Rica, and the ways they protect the turtles. Then we did a service project at a primary school down the road from the turtle reserve. At the school we painted two classrooms, we did cleanup around the school, and then made a garden. Overall it was more of working with the community by working hands-on and interacting with them.

For our next destination, it was a different type of traveling. Instead of taking a bus to our location we took a boat to get to the Osá Peninsula. At the Osá Peninsula we spent the majority of our time on the beach. Some people would read a book in the hammocks, some would swim in the ocean, and others would walk the beach. Our first adventure took us to a rainforest hike. During our time hiking we saw many types of animals such as howler monkeys, macaws, spiders, and the Costa Rican raccoon.

After the hike we went snorkeling at Caño Island, off the coast. While on the way to snorkeling we saw two different pods of dolphins; it was an amazing sight to see in the crystal clear water. When we arrived at our destination for diving we saw a variety of animals such as a manatee, parrot fish, angel fish, etc. After our first adventure of snorkeling we went to a turtle rescue. At the turtle rescue we made a safe place for the turtle eggs to hatch by filling bags of sand and making a rectangular enclosure. The Osá Peninsula was a lot of fun, we made unforgettable memories, and it was the perfect adventure to end the cross-cultural.

-Becca Borg

Dominical: relaxing and rafting

18 May 2015

After leaving San José we traveled down to Dominical, Costa Rica. As soon as we drove into the town there was an amazing environment of a surfing town. Every person was extremely laid back and going with the motion. No one was in a hurry to do anything other than hitting the waves. Once we got off the bus we all headed towards the beach to get food. As we looked around, we were amazed because there was the most wonderful market right in front of us.

There was a great amount of time spent at the market. Throughout the time we stayed there we had a pool and a much needed hangout area. On the second day we did a thirty minute walking tour plus zip lining. We all had to get strapped in and sent off with a leader and a catcher. There was a total of eight different zip lines that lasted an average of 15-18 seconds of air time; while zip lining it did not seem that long because we were all admiring the beauty around us.

The last day we packed up and went white water rafting. As we got there we were split up into four different boats. In those boats there was one leader and five to six of us sitting in the boat. After the rafting was over we ate fruit and cookies and then made our way to the next location.

Rafting experience:

My instructor had us sit and practice our instructions and once we were done he decided to splash all of us. We started our way down the water and we went over our first rapid. The instructor yelled out LEFT, we all leaned to the left but then Rachel S and I figured out he was trying to tip us all over so we backed off while Morgan, Matt, and Elisa fell into the water. The whole time our instructor was splashing me and stating there was a large fish jumping in the water and at one point he slapped his paddle on the top of the water and told us it was a small crocodile. As the trip went on we all started to sing songs. Then the instructor told us about how he and four more instructors were leaving soon to go compete in the preliminaries for the world white water rafting competition. Their group had taken I believe third in Brazil in the last world competition. This personally reassured me that we were with a professional that knew what he was doing. -Becca

That was the first time I have ever been white water rafting, and I did not know what to expect. My instructor’s name was JJ, and he did not realize that we were all first timers, so he was a little rough. As we went along he decided to flip us because that is something they do along the ride; all of us fell in. We got around another corner and we all flipped into rocks. After falling into the water I found out there are many rocks in the river because of the amount of bruises I have on my body. But that moment made me laugh the hardest I ever have in my life. Overall a great experience and would do it again. -Aislinn

íSi Puebla!

17 May 2015

We apologize for the apparent silence from the summer Mexico Cross-Cultural, but if I speak for myself, I can say: I’m having an awesome time!  While many of us have had our difficulties: extreme flight delays (and arriving to Puebla at 4:00 in the morning), getting lost in a large city with no cell service, struggling with a language that many of us only have a basic knowledge in, personality issues with conversation partners, and adjusting to some cultural differences, we have also had several exciting times.

Already we have spent two weeks here in beautiful Puebla studying intensive Spanish at the Spanish Institute of Puebla.  Antonio, the director, is a sweet man and always extremely helpful with understanding the language and culture of Puebla.  The institute has been wonderful to us, including taking us on a field trip to Cholula to see the pyramids and some churches.  We also have made friends from all over the world here at the institute including a diplomat from Northern Ireland and a human resource manager from Germany.  Our professors are great, and I have observed a good many of us taking large strides in our language skills. Plus, one of the coolest things happening right now in Puebla is the International Cultural Festival including free theater shows, concerts, and original art from all around the world.

While most of the students on the Mexico cross-cultural are staying with Mexican host families, I have the opportunity to be staying with some friends of mine.  My dad met Keith and Debbie Myers at a West Virginia American Baptist conference and eventually, our church came to become supporters for Keith and Debbie when they decided to become missionaries in Mexico.  Keith and Debbie have two teenage children, Boyden and Bailie who I am growing to view more and more like my true brother and sister.  While we do speak English in the house, I have had the opportunity to travel to the mountains of Oaxaca to one of their churches that they work with.

Right now, Keith and Debbie are working on a chicken project and helping several communities become a self-sustaining community while spreading the love of Christ.  I experienced a whole different world in Oaxaca from the city of Puebla.  While I am still getting a few things mixed up (for example, one of the pastors in Oaxaca asked me “¿Como te llames?” (What is your name?) and I said, “No gracias.”), I feel more confident with myself, the language, and traveling “beyond the margins,” as Profe puts it.

-MaKayla Baker

La Liga vs. Saprissa National Semi-Final

12 May 2015

From La Fortuna, we made our way to San José, Costa Rica. The Studio Hotel where we stayed was beautiful, with a roof-top pool. The first thing we did was get cleated up and play a 5v5 tournament where the winner stays on the field. From there we had a relaxing night to ourselves where most people went to bed early, watching TV. The next morning we made our way towards a park to play soccer and go to a nearby festival. The festival was promoting being active daily. There were items such as rollerblading, skateboarding, boxing, Zumba, and much more occurring on the streets. We all went back to the hotel for a break before the exciting semifinal game for the Division 1 league of Costa Rica. It was a rowdy game with an intense atmosphere, much different than any American sporting event. Since we have a diverse group from several sports, we conducted an interview  to know people’s reactions to the game.

Question: What was your first reaction as soon as the game started? Did this experience make you want to attend another professional soccer game?

Austin:  The atmosphere was crazy in the stadium and it was clear to see how passionate the fans were about their team.  The atmosphere itself made me a Liga fan, even if only just for the moment.  I don’t think any game in the US could compare to the way the crowd’s chants echoed through the stadium, but if I were to visit another country where futból is popular then I would definitely consider going to another game.

Niki: Before the game the fans were talking to the opposing team’s players, calling them every name possible which told me that it was going to be an intense atmosphere. As the game got started that intensity just picked up. There was one section that was on their feet the entire game, they never sat down. I could tell that this was going to be a fun game and it was. You could also tell that the fans are very passionate about the sport. I have been to other professional games in the US but nothing like that atmosphere. Even a Yankees vs Red Sox game couldn’t compare. I would definitely attend another game. It was so fun and upbeat, I just wish I could understand some of the chants and songs.  I would like to go to a soccer game in the US and see how the atmosphere compares.

Elisa: That experience was unreal, it’s something I believe everyone should do at least once in their life. You won’t find anything like that in the US. The fans have crazy chants, names for everyone, and comments for everything (if only I could understand half of them). The best part was getting to witness 2 goals being scored for the team that 99% of the crowd was cheering for. I would love to attend another game with that type of atmosphere! Hopefully I will get another chance sometime.

Home stays

Morgan, Elisa, Jelly:

Going into the home stay was nerve racking because our family didn’t speak any English and we didn’t know much Spanish to communicate with them. We found a way to communicate with them by hand signals and little key words. Some ways we bonded with them were playing Spanish twister and eating hot chili peppers around the dinner table and laughing at everyone’s reactions.  We bonded with our 11 year old host brother André by playing soccer, jumping on the trampoline, teaching him English, and Elisa by chasing him with a toad (Sapo). When it came time to leave, it was a lot harder than we thought it would be.

Aislinn, Becca, Michael, and Rachel:

We entered our house a little more confident than most groups because we had a little more assistance with translating since Michael was staying with us. As we walked through the doors the host mother and one of the daughters were open arms in greeting us. They were so kind and so open to helping us learn and understanding their language. We could actually have conversations and get to know each other as any other human. The last activity we did together was teaching our family and Michael how to make s’mores and toasted marshmallows. As we left, our family said that we are always welcome in their house.

Patrick and Rogelio:

We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at our home stay. Our house was a nice, well gardened, open windowed pad. Our host family consisted of Felicia, Gerardo, Sabrina, and San Luiz. We were fed large portions and were always greeted with warm smiles. Both our family and experience proved to be positive and enjoyable.

Anna and Molly:

Upon our arrival, Vilma, our host mom, greeted us with strong hugs and warm smiles. We did not live with any of her kids, but we got to know her neighboring family. We spent the evenings with her nephews, Diego and Andrés playing card games, singing and dancing. We ate some of the best food we’ve had on our trip so far. Overall, we enjoyed our home stay and are blessed to have had a mother who embraced us as part of her family.

Lauren, Niki, and Kaylin:

As we entered our host family’s home, we were welcomed with open arms and given our rooms to stay in. Our host mom let us do our laundry right away which was a major blessing as it was much needed! Our mom was a great cook and she made us a few things that we had never tried before. Some things we liked and others we weren’t too fond of. We were spoiled with the fan that our mom had because she basically let us use it wherever we went which was mainly the dinner table, the living room, and in our bedrooms. Our family was very open to having us there and we also got to talk more with our mom, her daughter, and the dad the last night while eating dinner, which allowed us to learn more about their life and we got to share about our lives. We really enjoyed our home stay with our family and we were very well taken care of.

Jared, Matt, Yona, and David:

Going into a home stay can be a little bit intimidating because you are never really sure what you are going to get. Our host family consisted of a mom, dad, an 8 year old and a 4 year old girl. Right off the bat, we knew the language barrier was going to be an issue because no one in the family really spoke English and we only knew some Spanish but we managed pretty well. Our host mom was an amazing cook. We all loved everything she made. We very quickly became fond of the kids who enjoyed having us around. They always had a lot of energy and loved to play with us. The boy loved playing card games with us as well as playing on people’s iPods. During meal times we had fun trying to communicate in Spanish while we ate the very well prepared food.

Joe, Austin, Marc, Zach, Braden, and Grayson:

We had a wonderful host family. It consisted of a grandfather and grandmother who had family over during the evenings. The grandfather worked most of the day, so we spent most of our time with the grandmother. She was a tremendous cook, and thanks to Marc and Austin’s Spanish speaking skills, we were able to communicate fairly well with her. Something really special about her that we noticed was her immense generosity. She told us she woke up every day at five in the morning to make tortillas and cheese, and yet she was still more than willing to cook a fully filling meal for six college boys, and do it with an open and willing heart. The generosity and hospitality of the Costa Rican people is an attribute that will continue to surprise and win over our hearts. Along with her generosity she seemed very interested in our lives as well; she asked us what we were studying at university, as well as what we want to do with our lives. Dinner with her was always a time we looked forward to, as it was a great experience to learn more about her life and culture, and the food was always amazing. To thank her for her hospitality we bought her a flower vase and some flowers while visiting the town square of La Fortuna and her gratitude showed on her face when we gave them to her.

Tyler, Seth, Jonny, and Billy:

The four of us stayed together for two days and nights at the Maleku village.  We were excited to move on from that experience and get to stay with our host family.  We were the second group to be called off the bus and meet our host family for the first time.  There were varied expectations as to what we would be experiencing; however, as we unpacked our things in our room we got to know and see a little bit of how our family lived their lives.  Before we went to see the farm we got to talk, with partial interpretation on Billy’s part, and play with the family dog Cocito, aka Franklin.  As we continued our stay we noticed that we did not need any form of entertainment other than talking amongst each other and learning more about their culture. We were able to enjoy an entirely different style of fun, and learn how to react in this different sort of social setting.  Words don’t fully describe the fun that we experienced, but the kindness and willingness to let us into their house left our group beyond grateful.  We will forever cherish the memories made in their household and that family will always hold a special place in our hearts.

Visiting the Maleku tribe

  1. May 2015

We started our travels early in the morning; it was roughly a 3 hour drive to the Maleku reservations, near the town of Guatuso. Once we got there, a truck took our luggage up to our location while we walked on a long, strenuous, hilly, and rocky road. By the time we got up to the dining area, we were all extremely sweaty because of the strenuous walk we were not prepared for. Once we got up to the dining area we had lunch. The locals knew we were on the reservations so they wanted to play a pickup game of soccer. On our way down to the pickup game we walked through the village to invite people to come watch or to come play.

The next morning we woke up and had breakfast around 7:00. We then split up into two groups; the first group took a tour in the dry forest and the second group worked on an art of painting on a shell of a fruit. The tour in the dry forest consisted of our guide Alex showing all of us plants that are medically used and animals that are living in the section of the forest we were walking in. In previous decades, the rubber tree was used for light and to keep the bugs away. The main issue about this tree is the Nicaraguan’s fought over and killed many Maleku for this tree. Then we painted on a gourd which is a shell from a fruit. They wanted to show us this indigenous art, because for most Malekus this is their source of income. Later in the day we went on a frog tour and our goal was to be the first to spot the red eyed tree frog. Next we were told more about their lifestyle and what all of the crafts meant by the animals drawn.

The final item of the day was playing a soccer game against the local men and women’s teams. Starting off, the men successfully won a 2-1 game with assistant coach Patrick and a student, Yona, scoring for our team. Then the girls played with a 3-3 tie with Jelly, Morgan, and Rachel scoring. We then went into a penalty kick shootout. For both teams all 11 women went through and kicked a penalty kick to decide the winner. Now both EMU teams are 1-0. That night after dinner a few of the Maleku people came up to perform a ceremony for us in order to show us their appreciation for our visit as well as show us how they worship their god, Toku. They wore what looked like burlap and a straw-like outfit for the ceremony. They chanted, sang, and danced around a campfire and they also had us join them so that we could be more involved in their ceremony process. We also took time to tell the people what we appreciated about their lifestyle because they live so much differently than us, because they work to preserve nature and take care of the world around us.

-Becca Borg

An introduction to Nicaragua

4. May 2015

We departed from EMU at 6:00 a.m. after 24 students were asked to show their passports. All but 1 were able to do so. The other sends her parents on a trek, first towards home, then turn around and chase the bus towards the airport. Phone calls were exchanged often to check on mile-markers to see if the pursuit vehicle was gaining…33 minutes, then 28, then 25, the two vehicles are getting closer. Twenty miles onto Route 66 we decide to stop for a quick breakfast at the Golden Arches in an effort to both give the group a final opportunity for a familiar American breakfast, and allow the chase vehicle to make up some ground. Within 20 minutes the chase vehicle arrives, and drops off the goods. We board the bus and head to Dulles. And so, the adventure begins.

The flight took us from Dulles to San Salvador, to a final destination of Managua. We touched down on time at 3:49. Going through customs was a breeze, then students observed the variety of sights, sounds, and smells of the city as we drove through the streets of Managua. We arrived at Quinta Shalom guesthouse for a hot meal of chicken, pasta, rice, salad, fruit drink, and for those that had room, an iced white cake.

The first day in Nicaragua was spent touring Granada, the oldest Latin American city. The city was vibrant and had a variety of colorful buildings. We visited both the oldest and newest churches there; the oldest church, Maria Auxiliadora and the newest church, Xalteva. The markets were crowded with little shops and restaurants. Parents and kids alike were selling souvenirs and merchandise on the streets. We later visited Lake Nicaragua, which has 365 islands and is a safe breeding grounds for bull sharks. That evening we visited an orphanage called Fortress of Hope where we made jewelry, played soccer, and danced with the kids.

The next morning, we picked up the kids to go to the largest park, Luis Alfonso Velasquez Flores. Here we played soccer with the natives. Later that day, we hiked the Masaya volcano. Sulfuric gases leaked from the active volcano. Once it got dark, we ventured down the hill of the volcano and hiked to a bat cave.

Day three we went to church at Iglesia Yeshua with the kids from Fortress of Hope. The service lasted 2.5 hours. We danced, sang, and took communion with the locals. After church we went to markets in Masaya. These markets were full of small vendors selling local fruits and vegetables as well hammocks and other souvenirs.

Today, May 4, we said our goodbyes in Nicaragua and are traveling to Costa Rica by bus.

-Anna Messer

Turning toward home

I walked into the dorm room from my morning shower and he was cooking something on a camp stove on the windowsill. Curious, I asked him, “how long have you been traveling?” From his worn hiking pack and sun kissed face I could tell that he had spent time outdoors. “Since last Saturday, we’ve been hiking for about a week,” he said in a smooth Italian accent. It was like he was touching the words gently, almost glossing over them with a song on the tip of his tongue. Much different than the lady that gave us a tour of the catacombs beneath the Church of St Agnes in Agony. Her English was like a roller coaster, an exaggerated movie Italian accent. 
“How about you?” my tall hiking roommate asked.
“I’ve been travelling about 4 months, since January,” trying to hide a sheepish grin. 
“Ooh, wow,” was the response, visibly impressed with the length of my journey. Respect was established, a bond shared.

I met this man on my free travel to Assisi. He was only one of many people that we met along the journey. One of many people we will likely never see again.

As we sit here in the airport in Rome awaiting the plan back we are filled with excitement and anxiety. Home is within sight, friends and family within reach. But how will we answer the questions? How do we begin to share this with the people who love us and long to hear our stories? What stories are even worth sharing? And of course the strict security, passport control, and jet lag aren’t helping either. But we are going home. If it still feels like home remains to be seen.

This last week we finished up our journey with Paul in Rome. Linford talked about how Paul had spent his whole life proclaiming Jesus, the Lord of the all, and now he was going to meet the emperor, the lord of the known earth, ruler of the largest and most powerful empire in history. We also talked about how the center of the Empire eventually became the center of the Church, and all the good and bad that came from that.
We had two days to explore the city on our own with a checklist of sites we were supposed to see including the Coliseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museum housing the Sistine Chapel, the Parthenon, and about 10 other churches and famous landmarks. Then our group scattered for four days of free travel, with groups going to Florence, Venice, and Cinque Terre before meeting back in Rome to fly out.
It’s been a wild ride!

Jacob Landis and Berto Wingfield


13. April 2015

As we enter our last stretch of time in the Middle East, the focus of our explorations has shifted to the sea – to learning and walking the different types of harbors, to studying Paul’s journeys by water (and land), to basking in the views of the seas from our hotel windows.

I’ve known water in a relatively limited way until this week. 
I’ve known living water preached about in church. 
I’ve known thunderstorms and flash floods. 
I’ve known peace like a river, love like and ocean, and joy like a fountain. 
I’ve known the cool, refreshing splash of jumping in a pool on a hot Texas summer day. 
I’ve known Palestinian water shortages and fewer showers.

But this week I’ve been shown so much more of the forms that water takes. 
I’ve experienced water…
as a sharp, cold surge, being playfully pushed off the dock and into the sea. 
as a vast, picturesque view of cerulean blue spotted with islands and backed by snowcapped mountains. 
as a light drizzle that sets a trap for slipping and falling when hiking a rocky trail of the Lycian Way. 
as a deep breath at the top of a lookout to absorb just a fraction of the water’s expansive beauty into my memory and my being. 
as the centerpiece of the ancient city of Perge, whose ruins are still impressively intact. 
as a lifestyle for partners seeing the seas together. 
as the simultaneously stifling and relaxing steam of a traditional Turkish bath.

All this to say, we’ve also learned the harsh, sometimes frightening realities of the waters that surround us. Linford and Janet were gracious enough to give us a tour of their own boat and show us the ropes. They explained the necessary precautions for sailing unpredictable waters and shared that sailing at night with no moonlight can be absolutely terrifying. I’ve also learned that the ancient Israelite fear of water is understandable considering that didn’t have the technology to either fly over it or pass through it on ships large enough to abate the effects of waves. The seas are beautiful, powerful, and dangerous.

My views of the waters and the world have been opened up. And for where we have been and where we have yet to go, I am grateful.

-Katie Miller, junior

La Finca La Loma and Holy Week in Antigua

6. April 2015

Coming back from free travel was both exciting and an adjustment for our group. After spending one week in small groups away from each other, it was a bit of a transition to come together as one big group again, however, we were all very happy to see each other. We all shared our adventures and experiences we had on our trips, and afterwards we prepared to go on retreat.

We left CASAS to travel to a retreat center in Chimaltenango called La Finca La Loma. It was a gorgeous venue that had everything we could want: places to be alone, a playground to have fun, restaurants to eat at, luxurious beds to sleep in, a field to play Frisbee and soccer, a paintball course, a zip line that really wasn’t a zip line, and two weddings! We were excited to theoretically crash the weddings, even though no one really did. The purpose of this retreat was just to relax after our week of traveling, and to further reflect on our overall experience while we also tried out a new method of communication…silence.

Our silent time began at 4 p.m. on Saturday, and during this time we were not allowed to communicate through words; it was up to imagination to figure out how we would speak to one another. For most of the group this was an eye-opening and enjoyable experience. Some people described it as fun and refreshing. For others it was a little frustrating not being able to communicate what they wanted to say, and not having that specific type of social interaction. All in all it gave people time to recharge and catch up on reading, journaling, and writing our affirmations to each other.

After our very relaxing break at La Finca, we made our way to the very lively, colorful, and musical city of Antigua. The city was bustling with tourists, students, and Guatemalan citizens to celebrate Semana Santa (Holy Week). Every day there was always excitement and wonder that filled the streets. Throughout the city, people made alfombras, which are carpets made with colorful sawdust, fruit, vegetables, and any other thing you can think of. Every design was unique and special; everyone made an alfombra that held a significance, whether it was to portray their love for Jesus, or to simply create a beautiful display in the street. Throughout each day processions went by that would walk over these alfombras, which would destroy them but that was the point. The processions had floats of Jesus carrying the cross, the Virgin Mary, and they also had a band playing music following these floats. Everyone would gather on the edge of the streets just to witness these glorious processions the entire day.

There was more in Antigua, though, that was just as fun, such as the markets. The markets stretched from the Central Park to different areas of the city. You could find almost any souvenir that you could want. The only challenge was bargaining, since this was Antigua, where tourists come all the time, and it was Semana Santa. Many vendors stuck to their prices and would not bargain down, however some could be persuaded. The markets were a daily visit for most people in our group, and we all were very happy to look at the gifts some people got to bring back home.

This past week was overall a wonderful and rejuvenating experience. The lack of a strict schedule made it all the more enjoyable because we were able to explore and experience all that La Finca and Antigua had to offer. It is safe to say that this has been one of the highlights of the trip, and we are anxiously excited to see what Cuba has in store for our last stretch of the trip.

– Allie Litwiller, Meggan Garcia Sheridan, and Gabby Spencer