“I was on a low-level adrenalin rush the whole time during my cross-cultural,” said Tim Swartzendruber at the 20th anniversary reunion of his Eastern Mennonite University group that spent a semester in France and Ivory Coast. “It was learning at its highest level.”
Seventeen of the 28 in the group flew in from as far as California and Texas to talk about their experiences and how the semester changed their lives. Some of the experiences were difficult, especially in the French-speaking West African country where they spent the second part of the spring term of 1994. Other experiences were exhilarating.
The group gathered during EMU’s Homecoming and Family Weekend, Oct. 10-12, at the home of their faculty leaders, Carroll and Nancy Yoder. The conversation time, which went late into the night, was preceded by a pig roast next door at the home of Joel Yoder, the leaders’ son and a member of the 1994 group. The reunion included seven spouses and more than 20 children.
Carroll Yoder, a former French professor who retired about 10 years ago, recalled a night in an Ivory Coast village when the EMU students were sitting around a fire under the starry skies. “This sure ain’t Nebraska,” said Brant Burkey, who grew up in Nebraska. Replied Kacey Bowers (now Raines) from West Virginia, swiping at the insects flying around her: “But it feels a bit like West Virginia!”
The students recalled the homes they were assigned to, sometimes with no running water and electricity – and sharing a bed with one of the family’s children.
“When you go through challenges, it makes you stronger,” said Ben Bolanos. Added Jo Wenger Fisher: “Shared experiences, especially in the face of adversity, drew us close together as a group.” Anne Charbeneau Zapanta said she had to “dig deep within herself” and that processing her experiences with her close-knit group helped a lot.
Katrina Wyse recalled vividly the night her host mother walked to a nearby clinic to give birth to a baby and then walked home before dawn with her new child. Maybe there is a connection, she said, but now she is a physician herself, delivering babies.
One student gave credit to the cross-cultural semester for the fact that he now devotes his life to Africa. Mark Schroeder is vice president of Africa analysis for Stratfor Global Intelligence in Austin, Texas. Carrie Stambaugh Bert said the unforgettable experience “still permeates my life 20 years later.”
The reunion group surprised the Yoders by announcing they were donating over $2,300 in the Yoders’ honor to the EMU cross-cultural program.
Highlights of the weekend
This year’s Homecoming and Family Weekend also included reunions for all graduating classes ending in “4” and “9,” starting with 1964. Graduates from before that time, called “jubilee alumni,” met together for a reception and program.
EMU recognized three outstanding alumni during the weekend:
• Don Oswald, ’75, alumnus of the year. A pioneer in helping children with autism, he is longtime director of an autism clinic in Richmond, Virginia, and a clinical professor of psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University. He earned two master’s degrees and then a PhD in psychology from Virginia Tech University.
• Don Sensenig, ’60, distinguished service award. His lifetime of Christian service included 10 years in Saigon during the Vietnam War, refugee work in Thailand and Honduras, pastoring churches, and victim-offender reconciliation. He has a master’s degree in religious education from New York University.
• Elizabeth Good, ’01, outstanding young alum award. Working as a hospital nurse, she quickly earned promotions, including director of the 150-employee emergency department at Aultman Hospital in Canton, Ohio. She has master’s degrees in both nursing and business administration from Case Western University.
EMU inducted two 2004 graduates into the Athletics Hall of Honor – Ellie Lind Holsopple in women’s soccer and Kristin Moyer Vasey in field hockey.
Other weekend events included a donor –appreciation banquet for 375 guests, a one-man theatrical presentation of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, an organ concert by recently-retired professor John Fast, a Sunday-morning worship service, an art exhibit opening, four intercollegiate games, tours of two renovated facilities, a panel discussion of retired science faculty, and departmental programs.
View a Flickr photo gallery of Homecoming and Family Weekend events