As one of the top “study abroad” colleges in the U.S, EMU is well-known for its emphasis on cross-cultural understanding and real-world experience. Students in our program travel with veteran faculty who are more than experts – they’re mentors who veer off the beaten path and teach cross-cultural understanding. Time after time, graduates say their cross-cultural trip was “life-changing.”
The basics about cross-cultural
Each academic year EMU offers three or four semester-long cross-cultural programs to destinations all over the world. At some point during their time in college, slightly over half of all EMU students study overseas for a semester. Additionally, up to a half dozen three- to six-week programs are offered every summer.
Between the two options, a large majority of students at EMU study abroad to fulfill its requirement for cross-cultural education, and the remainder have a supervised cross-cultural experience nearer to home. It’s a distinctive, long-standing and wildly popular part of the curriculum.
“We overwhelmingly hear from alumni that this is one of the best things that they did as an undergraduate because of the life experience and the self-understanding that they gain, the perspective [and] the language skills,” says Linda Martin Burkholder, assistant to cross-cultural programs.
After surveying several dozen students recently returned from an overseas cross-cultural, we’ve compiled a list of the most common reasons students look back on the experience as one of the best of their college years.
1. Gain new self-confidence
Getting from A to B in a strange place is part of every cross-cultural, and students find it’s a fantastic way to build confidence in their abilities to navigate new life situations.
“After riding many trains, planes, and automobiles – and one camel – I now have the confidence and know-how to travel by myself to just about any destination,” says Emma King ’15.
Nursing major Afton Vanderwarker ’15 says being “able to function completely independently for the first time in my life on our week of free travel … showed me how much I’m capable of and that I really can go anywhere and do anything in the world.”
2. Learn a language
Many cross-culturals include formal language study as well as an immersion experience with another language. There’s no better way to learn.
“I left knowing zero Spanish and returned able to speak enough to have conversations with host families and most people I met on the street,” says Alex Witmer ’15.
3. Make new friendships from home that will last forever
“I left the U.S. with a group of strangers and came back with a family,” says Rebekah Graham ’13.
Expect to form tight, long-lasting bonds with the other students in your group. Emma King ’15 explains why: “They were the ones who helped you carry your bag up a mountain. They ate the same sketchy looking soup with the unidentifiable green stuff in it that you did. They can now speak a foreign language just as badly as you can and laugh along with you when you accidentally ask a shop owner for a kiss rather than asking for their attention. They know all your embarrassing digestion stories. They are the people that know you at your best and at your worst.”
4. Form friendships abroad, gaining insights into the world
“I am still in contact with people from Syria to Palestine that I met through home stays and our living experiences, as well as [having] connections with people from places such as Guam and Ukraine that I made during free travel,” says Dan Nafziger ’13.
Syria and Ukraine have been spending a lot of time in the international headlines lately; Nafziger’s contacts there have given him greater understanding of the events putting those countries in the media spotlight.
5. Expand your food horizons
Chances are good you’ll eat things you’ve never heard of before (e.g., chocobananos), and maybe things you’d never considered food before (e.g., chicken feet). And, chances are good, you’ll be very glad you had the opportunity.
“The street food which we were warned not to eat was the best food I’ve ever had in my life,” says Vanderwarker. “I’d fly back for street food.”
6. Do things you couldn’t possibly do at home
Hike Spain’s Camino de Santiago! Swim with sea lion pups! Tour the Colombian countryside by motorcycle! Students come back from their cross-cultural with memories to last a lifetime.
“I got to visit Hobbiton [movie set in New Zealand], which was the greatest day of my life,” says Bonnie Fisher ’14.
Kaitlin Heatwole ’11 spent her free-travel hiking a section of the Israel National Trail, hampered by a lack of English-language maps. The best one she and her friends could find wasn’t great – imagine using a road atlas to hike the Appalachian Trail – and they did indeed go a bit astray. But gummy bear candy kept spirits high and they made it to the end intact, on time, and the better for it.
7. Change your life forever, and for the better
Talk to students who have been on a cross-cultural, and you’ll hear some variation of this over and over:
“This semester abroad marked one of the greatest times of my life – challenging, but beautiful,” says Annie Dutcher ’08. “My time in Guatemala and Mexico was completely life-altering in all the best ways. I credit EMU and this trip with opening my eyes to life outside of the U.S.”
Here are a few more take-aways:
“Even now, almost 15 months after returning to the U.S., I continue to strive for that sense of profound engagement with the world around me that I felt while on cross-cultural, and struggle to find ways to step outside of comfortable American life.” – Meg Smeltzer Miller ’13
“I learned how to choose to be content in each and every situation, no matter how difficult.” – Caitlyn Suttles ’13
“It did make me more reflective and thoughtful in my daily life. I don’t go a day without thinking of Honduras and the struggles those people face each and everyday.” – Patrick Campbell ’12, MA ’14
“If you want to leave college feeling like you’ve learned something and changed who you are in the best ways, cross cultural is the path you want to take. It’s a struggle but every moment – the hours in language class, the weight gain, the homesickness – is totally worth every penny and drop of sweat.” – Lani Prunés ’14