EMU Cross-Cultural

Guatemala: the highlands

On the road yet again. We’re in the highlands, the north. As we climb higher, the trees begin to look like home. Everything else is different, but the rolling hills, the mountains, and the pine trees echo home. There is not ten feet of straight road. The car wash signs on the side of the road are inexplicable in English. I see Mayan women in traditional dress walking with young children. There is graffiti on the cliff sides, worn away, but still present. We pass old school buses traveling up the mountains and they pass us back traveling down.

There is almost no piece of land that is not in use. Even the steep slopes are marked by the lines where corn and other foods meet. Groups of bikers brave the long climb punctuated at either end by cars or motorcycles for protection. From here the cities look like toy villages, the kind I used to play with as a child. Still there are signs and billboards that break my enchantment, gas prices and tire repairs, fast food and pain relievers, mattresses and resorts, reminds of everything human everything broken and beautiful, pass us by on the road to the border.

-Olivia Dalke


Guatemala: First Impressions

A successful day of travel from EMU was finished with fruit and sandwiches around 10 pm. The next morning we awoke to cool air and hot sunshine. Recorded below are our first, short impressions of Guatemala and CASAS from that first morning.
Akiel: beautiful scenery
Rebecca:  I was like “wow”.
Ruth: This place is so beautiful and there’s so much to take in.
Skyy: The night was scary and dark, but the morning is beautiful.
Liz:  I just can’t find the words.
Jamie: There are diverse plants here.
Olivia: I feel a closeness with the space that I can’t describe
Lori: I feel back to myself, a whimsical feeling in this open air. Also I love all the succulents.
Kellie: Guatemala is similar to Costa Rica in its life, animals, and people.
Austin: When we arrived last night I noticed how everyone here felt really relaxed, but all the buildings have barbed wire on them.
Theo: I LOVE it. This place is so obviously different and it makes me excited to be here.
Andrew: Its pretty. There’s lots of Spanish and I don’t understand it.
Maya: The courtyard is cared for, but also so free. At night the streets are quiet.

Middle East: Egypt

Has it really only been a week? That’s the question that comes to mind as I write these words in Anaphora, a compound about an hour’s drive from Cairo. It’s a beautifully serene place that offers us time and space to unwind and reflect.

Yes, only a week. Driving away from the farewell crowd at University Commons seems so long ago. After 20 hours of travel, half of which were spent in airports, we were greeted in the capital by our guide Samer (Sah-mair), who welcomed us with oranges, bananas, juice boxes, and flowers (for the ladies). Fortunately, it was nearly 9 PM Egypt time, so we were able to sleep soon after. Jet lag was hardly an issue.

Samer has since led us all over Cairo and Giza, holding his scepter topped with an ankh, the symbol for life, high in the air. In the morning, we saw the Great Pyramids, checking the only surviving Wonder of the Ancient World off of our list. These tombs held the global record for tallest man-made structure for nearly four thousand years, and the engineering plus sheer manpower it would have taken to achieve the stacking of rocks – each weighing multiple tons – is pretty flabbergasting. Our group took in their epochal presence, as well as that of the Sphinx, and moved on to visit a papyrus art gallery, a carpet making school, and a handful of other ruins that are rich in history, yet often overshadowed by the Pyramids.


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Reflections on the China Cross-Cultural

A Conversation Between Mary and Sam

Why China?

To be honest, I just needed to satisfy the cross-cultural requirement. I’m a transfer student, so I didn’t have a lot of options. I decided to sign up at the last minute when my advisor (Mark Sawin) told me it would be a great adventure, and I would come back a changed man.

Since you are a commuter student, what was it like to be thrown into such close encounters with our Cross-Cultural group for over three months?

Most of our CC group early into our trip at one of many temples we would visit

Even though I had been at EMU for a year, I didn’t have any EMU friends outside of class. I work a lot in my family business, and I’ve always lived at home. I didn’t know any of the other students in our group when we left for the airport. But I soon learned to know everyone. I gained some really good friends by coming on this trip.

What surprised you about living in China?

My host brother Robert and I at the top of a drum tower in the ancient city of Langzhong, Sichuan Province

I didn’t know anything about China before the trip. I expected things to be super difficult. I thought our housing and transportation would be more primitive. I didn’t know we would be traveling on modern high speed trains that could go over 300 kilometers per hour and living in brand new apartments that were nicer than my brother’s housing at JMU.

Tell me about the relationships you formed in China.

My friend M and I posing for a photo specifically for his WeChat “Moments” social media post

I thought going to my host family would be awkward, but they were really great. My host brother was eight and was fun to hang out with. He liked to play Mario Cart. I made a couple of good friends who were students at our university. I met “M” at an English major meeting. We played ping pong and basketball together, ate out, walked around and talked about stuff. Once our group was traveling far from Nanchong, and I couldn’t find anything to eat. I complained to M on We Chat (the Chinese instant messaging platform everyone uses) and he sent me an order of dumplings delivered to the hotel!

What will you take away from this experience?

I learned that American money goes a long way in China. I learned that the Chinese can be some of the kindest people on the planet—they were really helpful and good to me. I learned about China’s long history and current politics.

MOUNTAINS! Yunnan Province

So are you coming back a different person?

I have a new appreciation for some things I’ve taken for granted, like the American school system (the Chinese system is very stressful and rigorous) and certain “luxuries” like clean drinking water and reliable electricity. I gained a new taste pallet for foods I never had before, like dry hot pot and pomelo (which is like an enormous grapefruit). I learned that even in a new culture that is so different than my own, there are still so many similarities: people are people.

—Samuel Snead IV

China: Expanding Identity

Dec. 9, 2018

I am 22 and am adopted from China – well, my mother has to remind me that I was adopted because “adopt” is a verb, not a constant state of being.

I chose to go to China for my EMU cross-cultural long before college, even though I had already visited there in 2012 with my family. My brother was studying in China, so my parents felt it was the best opportunity to visit the three girls’ orphanages where my sisters and I came from.

During my visit to China with my family, the experiences I had changed what I knew of myself before. I was constantly told that I had such good English. Or people spoke to me in Chinese, expecting me to understand. Once, I even had a woman say to me, in Chinese (which my brother could understand), how it was so amazing that someone so young (I was sixteen at the time) was taking foreigners around China.

From these multiple encounters, I felt like I was a “fake” Chinese person, particularly since I didn’t know the language. I explored the term “Chinese-American,” but what I found did not sound like my story. I felt more American-Chinese. Chinese-American families usually involved several generations, where the kids’ grandparents and parents teach them Chinese culture and language. Their other family members looked like them, and they knew exactly where they came from. I didn’t feel Chinese, even though I looked “Chinese.”

I hoped that going to China for a semester would help me find the missing cultural piece of myself. I took the Mandarin course last year in preparation for the cross-cultural. Little did I know what was coming…

Once again, I found myself immersed in a place where I could only say, “thank you” and “my name is….” Our EMU group took Chinese language classes, studied Chinese history and learned on the go. So much new learning about China hit me hard, and it made me feel very defeated.

Most people in China do not understand the concept of adoption. It was difficult to explain it to my host mom and for her to explain it to others, such as taxi drivers, dance moms/dads, store clerks, restaurant workers, family members and grandparents.

Claire with her twin host sisters

I was put into a host family, whose first response to me was “Oh, I think our girls (6 year-old twins) will be a bit disappointed when they meet you next weekend,” since I didn’t look like a foreigner.  And in fact my host sisters kept forgetting that I was a foreigner/American so they would speak to me in Chinese. Even 6-year-old Chinese was far more advanced than anything I had learned in my one semester of Chinese at EMU. So, that did not help me come to peace with my lack of “Chinese-ness”. College students would also tell me that I “look” Chinese. I had to confront this all semester.

There were times when I did not want to go to my host family’s [home] or felt embarrassed and scared about even going to the grocery store because of the looks I would get when I came up to a clerk with my Google translator or my broken Chinese vocabulary. When I was with EMU classmates, salespeople or restaurant workers assumed that I could translate or order for the foreigners, but I didn’t have enough vocabulary to explain my situation in terms they would understand. In the end, as one way to cope with the constant bombardment of feeling inadequate as a “Chinese”, I would use only English so as not to confuse native speakers into thinking I knew any Chinese at all.

But from this semester I have learned quite a bit about myself. These lessons are not from just my experiences, but from observing people in my cross-cultural group. The support I have received through this semester has been such a light at the end of my own tunnel of singular thoughts about my own identity. Even though I did not learn as much Chinese or become as fully “Chinese” as I initially thought I would, I have started to change my mindset and idea of what it means for me to be Chinese. Through the great support of my family at home and my cross-cultural friends and leaders, I am beginning to take a different approach to how I see myself as Chinese. For me, it will be a nonlinear path of growth. This cross-cultural is only a small part in my journey of self-acceptance.

-Claire Waidelich

China: Why study in such a small city?

“Nan…chong? Never heard of it.”

When I told my sister-in-law, a native of Zhejiang province here in China, that I would be spending a semester studying in Nanchong she was understandably confused. A small provincial town of only about 1.3 million, Nanchong isn’t the first place to come to pretty much anyone’s mind when you tell them you are studying in China. Why are we not exchanging with one of the bigger cities with the more famous colleges like Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, or even Hong Kong, like most colleges do?

Chinese Cooking Class in Former EMU Scholar’s Apartment

The answer is actually fairly simple. Nanchong is our main home during the cross cultural because it is where students can experience a normal life away from tourists and tourist sites. While those big cities are still very much Chinese, it is in places like Nanchong that one can learn to know people and the culture best.

Western meal in Nanjing

Places like Shanghai and Nanjing, where most American students usually end up are much larger and more modernized than the provincial cities of China. Public transportation mainly consists of buses and the occasional taxi; metros and other faster transportation are reserved for larger cities. Westerners are less of an oddity in larger cities as well, and it’s easy to see others culturally like the majority of our group, whereas in Nanchong we stand out and there are less people to share our experience with. We have to interact with the culture and people more than in a big city. American fast food takes more work to get in Nanchong, with a 25 minute bus ride to get to the nearest McDonald’s or the other limited options of western food while Nanjing seems to have a McDonald’s or Starbucks every few blocks and Shanghai even has Taco Bell and Shake Shack. Not being able to blow our stipend on western fast food easily forced us to try more foods and small shops. This also proved to be a good way to connect with students and learn the food culture of China.

Being at a smaller less prestigious school like China West Normal University allowed us to connect with Chinese students much easier than it would have probably been at a larger school, since there is less opportunity to latch on to other foreigners. Through them we learned a lot, from high school and college life dynamics to the art involved in Mahjong and ping pong. Being a small group at a small school also seemed to make the English majors more willing to open up with us. They talked to us about their stresses over school and their future, and even about the drama they experienced amongst themselves. We made good friends and cultural connections at Nanchong’s China West Normal University than we probably would have at a large, prestigious university in Beijing or Shanghai.

Tai Chi in Nanchong – Photos by Brandi Nelson

Being in a small provincial city also allowed us to connect with the countryside culture along with the urban. Many of the people we saw in Nanchong were originally from the countryside but had relocated to the city to work. We were able to visit a countryside farm, and talk to the farmer to see what their lives were like. Living off small pensions and the food they grow themselves, life is far from lavish in the countryside. The farm we visited couldn’t even sell the goods they grew due to low sale value. The farmer was very open with his life and his past.

Nanchong is definitely not Nanjing or one of the other larger Chinese cities. Even in the city itself it is a completely different world. There is very little western influence and the infrastructure is less modern, though Nanchong is still growing. Though it seems odd to those who don’t know about Nanchong, being in a less touristy area gave us a more realistic view of China and allowed us to experience much more than we could have at a famous school.

-Brandi Nelson

China – Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge: An Unforgettable Experience 

Being in China has pushed me to to be more adventurous and try things that I would normally stray away from. In the past, I automatically lost interest if I even heard the word “hiking”. I’ve never been the athletic type. In fact, I can’t even walk half way up the hill on EMU’s campus without searching for the nearest bench.

So, my mom was understandably shocked when I told her I was going to participate in a two day hike to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Hearing that there was beautiful scenery was definitely a motivator for my decision to go.

Since I was able to go at my own pace, I was able to stop and appreciate the scenery. It was also pretty manageable because I could sit down and take a rest when I felt like I couldn’t go any further.

Within the first hour or so I tripped on some rocks walking up hill, which made me regret embarking on this journey. But, I took a deep breath, accepted the fact that I was covered in dirt, and kept moving along. A man walking with a horse followed our group for quite a while and tried to coerce us to ride the horse along the trail. He imitated our huffing and puffing in an attempt to convince us to give in. We decided to face the challenge head-on though and walk to the half-way point the first day.

Before the hike, we were warned that the most difficult part was the twenty-eight switchbacks, a series of uneven stone steps that continuously went up and around. We thought that we had already conquered the switchbacks before lunch, but we soon discovered that was not the case. This was very discouraging because we knew that it was only going to get more difficult. I had to take a little break after about five switchbacks.

It was chilly up in the mountains, but it felt like a hundred degrees as we tried to go uphill  as fast as we could with the sun beaming down on us. About halfway through the switchbacks, I set my heavy backpack down and laid down in the shade. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and told myself that I would make it.

Once I reached a sign that read, “You conquered the 28 bends,” I was actually surprised that there weren’t any more. After a long day of hiking, we stayed at the Halfway Hostel that thankfully had heated blankets. It felt great to be able to curl up in a ball and be surrounded with warmth after exerting so much energy. The next day, I was not as sore as I expected to be.

We had a satisfying breakfast and set out to hike three hours before stopping at a guesthouse to rest. We saw a beautiful waterfall on the way and stopped to capture the image. I appreciated being in such a peaceful setting and being able to take in all the scenery.

I was discouraged on the way to Tina’s Guesthouse because there were many slippery areas sprinkled with loose rocks and boulders which I constantly tripped over. I was thrilled once I saw the sign for the hotel in the distance and charged downhill.

Tina’s provided free transportation to the rock where the tiger is believed to have leaped to the gorge from. We then discovered that there was no transportation back and it would be about a 3-hour hike back.

I wasn’t too happy about this after such a strenuous hike, but I decided to accept the challenge. Walking closer to the gorge was mostly downhill, which made it a little easier. But, once I got to the point where one could actually stand on the rock, I decided that I did not want to go on.

The bridge didn’t look very supportive in my opinion. I saw that many people made it across safely and were happily taking photos on the large rock, but I knew that I would be terrified if I felt the bridge sway. Luckily, there was a faster way to get back to the guesthouse that didn’t require walking up all the steps we walked down.

It was quite a sight to go up two ladders to get back up the mountain. I was frightened when I reached the end of the first ladder and realized my leg was too long to go over the last step. I panicked as Claire stood a few steps behind me and assured me that I just had to take a deep breath and pull myself over the step. Once we made it past the first ladder, the second ladder was a piece of cake.

Although the hike was strenuous and a lot more exercise than I’m used to, I am glad that I got the opportunity to do it. I don’t think I’d hike it again if I had the chance though. It was refreshing to experience a more rural side of China and be surrounded by nature and clean air. It was also great to devour a BLT once we returned to old town Lijiang–without any guilt. I had earned it!

-Yordanos Tesfa





Student Life at China West Normal University

On a Saturday night in October, we were drifting off to sleep in our dorm beds when bloodcurdling screams coming from just outside the building jarred us awake. Moments later more screams followed, apparently chanting words I couldn’t decipher. The next morning, Sam revealed to the group what he had been told by a student of the university- the screaming was part of a game between girls and guys in separate buildings of the campus, modeled after a dating show on TV. What I had taken to be something horrific happening outside has actually been a fun event for students.

China West Normal University is in many ways a school very different from our EMU. For one, CWNU’s undergrad students number 30,000, while at EMU we’re hovering right above 1,000. CWNU is a teacher’s college, meaning most of the students will eventually be teaching in their respective fields. And, apparently, at CWNU you might be woken up by screams as you’re falling asleep. These differences aside, CWNU’s students are easy to relate to (even despite the language barrier) and we’ve had fun bonding with students over the similarities and differences of our respective cultures.

As a senior, Wang Hong Yan (English name Kiko) studies all day. She doesn’t have classes, so instead spends all her time in self-guided preparation for her teacher certificate exam on environmental engineering. She’ll spend all of next semester working on her thesis paper, a graduation requirement for her major. Other than meals and maybe a short nap mid-afternoon, you’ll likely find her in the library, sitting on a stool or pacing the hallway, textbook in hand, chanting aloud the material to aid in memorization. 25-30 other students will be doing the same thing in the same place, so the hallway will echo with the din of 30 students talking aloud to themselves, all this while classes are taking place in rooms just off the hallway. If Kiko does go back to her dorm for a mid-afternoon nap, she’ll be greeted by her roommates; 5 other senior girls in her same major. At CWNU, roommates are assigned by the school, and decided based on your major. When students enter as freshmen, the roommates they meet will remain with them all four years. Only in very unusual circumstances are students allowed to change roommates from one year to the next.

Liang Chun Yan (Ada) is an English major. As a junior, she still has classes, which typically start at 8. After leaving her dorm in the morning, she won’t return till around 10 at night. She’ll spend all day in class, or studying in the library. She explains that most of the fun activities on campus (like the screaming match I heard) are geared towards the freshmen. Their first three weeks at college, CWNU’s freshmen participate in required military training. During this time they don’t have classes, and just train with their unit all day. This consists of camo-clad guys and girls jogging around campus in groups of 10-20 students, or standing stock still in the middle of a field for up to half an hour while the leader of their section paces up front, making sure no one moves a muscle. After this three-week period, classes start, but the freshmen still have time in their schedules to join clubs and participate in fun activities organized by the school. After their freshmen year, many students will drop out of the clubs they joined that first year, as they no longer have time in their schedules.

Another strange orientation tradition is that during the first month of school, the freshmen are required to clean their entire dorm building and keep it spotless. Students themselves, and not a cleaning crew, are responsible for cleaning bathrooms, sweeping the floor, and making sure all surfaces are mess-free. Another group of students (usually upper-classmen) regularly inspect the dorms to make sure freshmen are meeting the cleaning standards. Dorms are ranked at the end of the month according to how clean they’ve been kept, and the residents of the building in last place have to clean other buildings on campus as punishment. How’s that’s for a Royals Cup event, EMU? When I asked Ada if there was anything else she thought I should know about student life at CWNU, she said that in the library there are 6 bathrooms for girls, and only 2 for boys. This highlights the gender imbalance among students, and as Ada said rather dejectedly, “Many girls are single, and almost all the boys have girlfriends.”… We feel ya Ada, we feel ya.

Chen Jun Feng (Bob) is also a junior English major. He confirmed that junior year is very challenging academically, but (luckily for Andrew) that doesn’t mean he can’t find time to fit in a ping pong game or two every once in a while. His favorite activities are ping pong, sports matches, mountain climbing, or pretty much anything athletic.

We’re lucky that no matter how busy the students of CWNU are, they still make time to hang out with us 🙂

-Emma Stutzman

China: Communicating through Sport

Nov. 4, 2018

After being unable to communicate clearly with people for the first few weeks of our trip, I was ready to use sports as my medium of communication. I heard about ping-pong tables but could not find them and had to ask for assistance from a boy sitting at the top of the steps looking over several courts of pick-up basketball. There are many English majors on the China West Normal university campus, and I thought it would be worth a try to open the conversation in English rather than stumble through any of my basic Chinese phrases that I had not yet polished. When I asked if he knew English, he told me that he was an English major and that his English name was “Box.” I had to confirm the name because of its obscurity. We chatted a little as he led me to the ping-pong tables. I found out that he liked basketball and got his contact information for a possible game in the future. This is how I met many of my Chinese friends.

Basketball game -A. Troyer

Box later explained that his Chinese name combined with the Chinese character for “Box” meant psychopath in his hometown. In general, more complicated conversations like this with non-native English speakers can be draining. I have realized that Chinese to English translation is no easy task. This fact is prominently displayed all over China on signs with English translations that often leave me scratching my head. Even if all the words are correct, a cultural point may be missed along the way. Even though most students’ English is better than mine, I sometimes feel that I am speaking to a child as I dumb down my vocabulary and filter my cultural references. I must remind myself that many people I talk to are much more intelligent than they appear in English. My rudimentary Chinese doesn’t paint me as the next Einstein either. In the midst of this frustration, I turn to sports as a universal language to communicate through competition.

Andrew at the ping-pong plaza

I spend many evenings texting all my Chinese friends to ask if they want to play ping-pong. Often, they are busy studying for a test or doing homework, but I usually can find at least one person to play me. In the U.S., I list my ping-pong skills as average. However, after being told by a 12-year-old boy that I “die quickly,” I think my official Chinese ranking should probably be below average. No matter the skill difference, I enjoy either asking questions about college life for Chinese students or putting some of my Chinese language to use depending on my opponent’s English ability.

In the end, I was able to play some basketball with Box. We happened to be on the same team on a weekend tournament put on by the basketball club. With only two weeks remaining in our time on this university campus, it is one of my goals to be as active with others as possible.

-Andrew Troyer

Religion in China; Comfortable without clarity


“Are you Christian?”
“Are you Mennonite?”

Every time I’m asked these questions, I usually respond with a sputtering “well I was raised Mennonite”, or even a resounding yes to bring a quick end to an uncomfortable conversation. However, neither answer really felt like an honest portrayal of my uncertain religious convictions.

In the West, we expect a simple yes or no to these questions. To us, religion is a binary: either you are or you are not. This expectation of exclusive belief makes discerning religious and spiritual ideas difficult; how can we figure out our beliefs when there is no room for grayness in religion?

In China, however, religion is nothing but gray. Religion (or philosophy, depending on your definition of religion) in China does not necessarily mean complete faith in one religion but can be a personal combination of many thoughts. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to find accurate numbers for people in China who

Building within Daoist Temple

consider themselves religious by Western standards. Someone may consider themselves non-religious but still pray for prosperity if they visit a Christian church or Buddhist temple. Or, one may consider themselves religious but believe in any combination of Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, etc., and practice in any kind of various ways. (This disbelief in exclusive religion is one of the reasons Christianity struggled for centuries to find its place within Chinese society).

This past Monday, we visited a Daoist temple, Nestorian Christian pagoda and a Buddhist pagoda/temple (all dating back to at least the seventh century CE). Normally, when discussing religion, we try to organize and classify each thought, finding differences between every religion. Visiting three different religious sites in one day, however, enabled me to see the similarities. The Buddhist and Daoist temples each were similar in composition, with classic Chinese architecture, inscribed paintings and figures to venerate. The pagodas at the Buddhist and Nestorian sites were similar in shape and size, and inside the Nestorian pagoda, Daoist and Christian iconography intermingled. If the places of worship were so similar, then surely the beliefs must be in some way as well.

Nestorian Pagoda

While I walked among the Daoist buildings within the temple walls, each decorated with beautifully bright paintings of nature and in the courtyards wafting with incense, I felt at peace. This feeling of connectedness was greater than anything I have ever felt in a church or at any of the European Anabaptist sites I visited last summer.

Perhaps this sense of peace I felt in the Daoist temple was the spiritual connection I yearned to have out of guilt for lacking the deep faith others’ possessed, but I eventually shunted, out of self-perceived failure and anger.

Buddhist Pagoda and Incense Burner

I have never felt comfortable answering yes or no to inquiries about my Christian faith, but maybe it is because a simple yes or no cannot properly convey my faith. China, and this cross-cultural, have given me a new and open space to explore my spirituality that no where else has and tools to process my complicated relationship with religion that I have yet to find exclusively within the Christian church. For this I am thankful.

I am not ready to turn my back on the Mennonite church, but I need more. While I have yet to reach any conclusions on how I identify religiously, I am no longer sure I want a definitive answer. In some ways, I am more comfortable without clarity. Ultimately, I think the Chinese may have it right: why strictly follow one doctrine when you can syncretize so many beautiful philosophies? Why be religiously stagnant when there is so much to explore?

-Emma Yoder