Thirty years have passed since her days as a nurse in a war zone, but Ann Hershberger ’76 still has a sense of impending violence when she hears a helicopter over her head.
“I still can’t stand to have a helicopter go over me,” she says. “I remember looking up at them and not feeling scared, but angry. I hated the violence I saw there.”
When Hershberger graduated from Eastern Mennonite University in the mid 1970s, she knew she wanted to use her nursing skills to help those who could not obtain the medical attention they needed. She headed to Nicaragua.
She returned to the United States in the spring of 1980, to teach at EMU and share her experiences with students. A year later she found herself serving, at age 26, as the youngest member of a task force assessing whether EMU should make cross-cultural study a graduation requirement.
“I felt so lucky to be surrounded by all these amazing and wise people. It was so interesting just to hear their stories and their individual experiences in other cultures.”
In 1983 Hershberger returned to Central America with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) where she tended the victims of war for six months.
In 1985, she and her husband, Jim ’82, MA ’97, led an EMU-sponsored trip to Central America, toting along their infant daughter Sara (’07). They spent time in Nicaragua and Honduras, both countries in the grip of violent conflict, but the Hershbergers felt that the students needed to understand the dangers that people face in many parts of the world. (Twelve years later Jim became one of EMU’s first master’s in conflict transformation graduates.)
The Hershbergers spent 1985-1990 working for MCC in Nicaragua, overseeing distribution of aid to persons displaced by civil war, doing education and leadership training with the Mennonite Church, and providing health care in areas where government personnel did not venture.
They returned to the United States with an appreciation for the Nicaraguans’ emphasis on family and community.
“I feel like you cannot be an educated citizen if you do not understand something about the world outside of yourself,” says Ann. “You have to immerse yourself in another culture and become a world citizen.”
Students on the Hershbergers’ 1993 EMU-sponsored trip to Central America recall a gutsy Ann preventing a 737 jet from taking off without some of the students’ belongings. “Without thinking I stood in front of the plane, shaking my finger at the pilot,” remembers Ann, laughing.
Ann has been a part of five EMU cross-cultural trips, as well as hosted EMU students during her time in Central America with MCC. Two of the Hershbergers’ children—Nathan ’12 and Rachel ’10—were born in Nicaragua (Rachel was adopted). The Hershbergers will be leading a cross-cultural trip to Guatemala and Columbia in the spring of 2013.
Having experienced or witnessed all kinds of student sojourns in Latin America, Ann argues for the benefits of study-trips led by caring, knowledgeable faculty members.
“All of the students are different. Some have different faiths, or experience their cross-cultural journey in a different way, ” says Ann. “We as faculty help the students create meaning from their experiences, and that is why the approach has been so meaningful for me.”
—Rachael Keshishian & Bonnie Price Lofton