Since we’ve arrived in Europe we’ve caught glimpses of some mountains. The more we’ve traveled, the more of them we’ve seen. I’ve grown up around mountains, and I’m quite familiar with them, but the Alps are an entirely different story. At the bottom you’re hot and burning up in the 80 degree weather, but you’re staring up at snow covered peaks. And let me tell you, they are breathtaking.
Our trek up the mountain was led by Dr. Werner Schwartz, an official “Bergführer” (mountain guide) and “Naturschützer” (nature protector) for 30 years. He taught us about the rocks, plants, animals, and water of the area on our journey to the top.
We came out onto the ridge where the top of a ski lift ended, and climbed just a little further to the tippity-top. With nearly a 360 degree view, I think it’s fair to say that the little breath we had left was stolen.
After admiring the view, we began our descent and took a shortcut down through the ski slopes. At the base was a large lake where the remainder of the group welcomed us back. We ate our lunch together and then decided to go for a swim.
We took the polar bear plunge into the pool. After dipping our toes into the glacial lake and thinking it would be warmer, we jumped off the dock and into water that was just as cold as the pool.
Taking advantage of the free time we had for the rest of the afternoon, we joined the masses and lounged around the lake in the grass, soaking up some sun and relaxing after our journey.
As a child, I played follow the leader. I mimicked the actions of others for fun.
As a college student, I find myself in a very similar situation. This cross cultural is an extreme game of follow the leader.
Our leaders, Kim and Seth, model how to function in contemporary Europe. They guide us through cities and on public transportation. They gladly share their wisdom and calm our nerves. We follow. We learn by example.
These times of mimicking prepare us for times of independence. Almost daily we are given opportunities to explore or assignments to find specific locations. This is when the roles reverse. My peers and I will take turns directing, learning through practice.
Although this ever changing game of follow the leader is fun and challenging, it has a specific focus. We are tracing the paths of our Anabaptist roots. We are walking streets where they were beheaded or burned for refusing to recant their faith. We are crossing rivers where some were drowned and where some fled by boat. We are visiting towns where their communities thrived for a short amount of time and towns where they were forced to leave. We are following the steps of our Anabaptist leaders, imagining what life and faith meant to them.
Looking back over the last three weeks, I have learned a lot in this game of follow the leader. Navigating a new European city is no longer daunting. Ordering food, when the menu is only in German, is exciting. Boarding trains has become a normality. Walking tours are necessary. Overall, I have become more confident, learning the tools I need to navigate within a new culture.
I have also realized how comfortable my faith experience has been. My choice to follow Christ does not have life or death consequences. My life as an Anabaptist is so much easier than my fellow Anabaptists during the Radical Reformation. This shift in perspective has given me an avenue to reevaluate my faith and relationship with God.
Playing follow the leader is much more challenging than it sounds.
🙂 Madalynn Payne
I started off this cross cultural thinking that I had a leg up because I had traveled out of the country to Europe before, but I was sadly mistaken. Last time I was with my group of 20 something people carrying huge suitcases and matching backpacks, moving like a herd through towns with a tour guide on a big bus. This time around, we are a group of 11 students, and are encouraged to try to live like the locals. This way is definitely more scary for a 19 year old who is used to having my parents be a call and a 30 minute car ride away.
European culture in general is very different than American culture. The population as a whole is generally more reserved, in anything from clothing to personal expression. Personally I have received mixed receptions. Sometimes there are people that would love to talk to you and hear your story, and patiently wait for you to figure out what the heck you’re trying to get in the Billa when you can’t read a lick of German and have to rely on pictures. Then there are some that give you the, “I can totally tell you’re American by the way you enter a room” look and aren’t having it. Luckily there have been far less of the latter looks.
Something else a small town southern girl such as myself had to get used to is living in the city. There are people talking and laughing, car horns, street cleaners, and more at all hours of the night and very early in the morning. But then there are the advantages; like being able to walk to everything, having regular access to public transportation, and having things to do at 9pm when you’re bored and can’t journal any longer. Other things I’ve had to get used to are having to pay for water (you learn to just bring your water bottle and not ask for drinks), different foods, people trying to speak to you in different languages, pesky tour groups that are like 40 strong, and apparently they don’t like ketchup as much as we do. Also can I just mention that while I was well aware that they don’t drink sweet tea over here, that’s on my top 10 most missed list.
So far I have talked about a lot of disadvantages, but there are some pretty great aspects to this trip as well. I have redefined my definition of “lost”. Before I used to rely on my cell phone GPS or call my dad (a human atlas) when I didn’t instantly recognize my surroundings. Now if I don’t it’s not a big deal, we’ll figure it out eventually. Another HUGE plus is the scenery. There are so many places that look like they’re straight off a postcard, except I get to see them in real life. There are plenty of photo opportunities over here. Also, this trip has been great for whipping some of us into shape. There has been a lot of walking, which obviously there are some downsides. If your body isn’t ready, the first two weeks will be quite an adjustment. The plus side is that you’ll come back looking better than ever. Plus all that exercise means you can eat an apple strudel after dinner a few nights a week.
This week has been kind of travel heavy with going from Vienna to Salzburg to Innsbrück with a couple day trips to different towns thrown in the mix, so we have gotten well acquainted with the OBB (train station). Time is passing quite quickly, but the memories we’re making will be unforgettable.
Ilse Friesen has been a great connection for us here in Vienna. Because of her, I feel like we have been able to immerse ourselves more into the culture than we would have otherwise. On Sunday, she invited us to her apartment for a proper cup of Viennese coffee and tea. It was great for us to be able to interact with her inside her home. On Tuesday, Ilse came to our little classroom and gave a lecture on female crucifixes. Ilse is extremely intelligent and has written numerous works of females and saints in the church. On Thursday, we were invited by her and her brother to a private piano concert. This was an amazing opportunity to her professional piano players that we wouldn’t have gotten without her.
On Friday we visited the Prater and had the chance to ride the Wiener Riesenrad. The Wiener Riesenrad is one of the largest and oldest Ferris wheels in Vienna. It was fun to be able to take an afternoon to relax and bond even more as a group. Although it’s sometimes stressful to be in a group all day everyday, we are mixing and working very well together. Exploring a new country and culture is a great experience on its own, but even better when you’re surrounded by wonderful people.
Today was a wonderful experience at the STAR school. My favorite part was playing basketball with all of the kids. I was blown away by how well they got along with one another in the game. Joe, Kyle, Griffin, and I talked about how all the kids were extremely close and have an inseparable bond. They put a smile on my face when I saw how much excitement those kids had. I was also happy to have a nice conversation with an 8th graders named Stephen. He made me realize that the Navajo people are just like me because he told me how he was nervous for the 9th grade. It allowed me to think back when I was in his shoes and had the same thoughts. These kids allowed me to escape my thoughts about missing family and to just be a kid. I am thankful for this experience today.
13 May 2017
Overall the past six days have been crazy and fun. I chose to go on this trip to experience traveling across the world for the first time. My second trip via plan e was a lot better than my first, less motion sickness and more sleep than I thought. Going through customs for the first time was easy too. Overall everything was good until we had to travel from our host family’s house to the classroom. We have gotten lost almost every day this week on the Ubahn. Our daily commute takes an hour. We walk to a bus stop then get on the bus to the station then get on the S -train until we reach the U-trains until we get into actual Vienna. As of Friday we have officially figured it out. This week we have walked all around the inner ring of the city, also known as the old city. We have done a scavenger hunt, two walking tours and spent most of our free time in here. This city is nothing like New York or D.C. The buildings are all different shapes. Each building looks as if it is from another time period. Most are covered in a mural or decorative statues to show the history of the city. So far I have been able to visit a lot of historical places for music. I found the statue s or graves of Johann Strauss, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Franz Schubert. We also got to find the school where Beethoven and Haydn met and one of the houses Beethoven lived in on our tour. I am very excited for next week and the rest of our cross-cultural.
Prior to leaving for the cross-cultural, I was incredibly excited to visit Germany and Switzerland. I’ve often learned about Germany in history classes and knew of personal Mennonite connections to Switzerland. I knew little of Austria and, therefore, was unsure about the visit here. My hesitancy, however, was completely unfounded. The past few days in Vienna have been a great experience that I hope to never forget for several reasons.
Since being in Vienna, we have visited some amazing sights. I’m a history major, and love visiting old buildings and museums. We have visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a Gothic-style Roman Catholic Cathedral dating back to the twelfth century, along with others. On Thursday, we went to the Art History Museum and the Natural History Museum.
While I have loved the classic sights, the unexpected experiences have been some of the best. As a woman from a small town, I was unsure about public transportation and city navigation, but it has been a great experience to travel the city and learn how to navigate on our own. Also, a street near the Donaukanal (a canal), offers some fantastic graffiti. Overall, Vienna has been an incredible visit so far, and I know it will be difficult to leave.
It’s really difficult to sit down and only write about one or two things that we’ve been doing on this cross-cultural. I feel like there is so much that I want to share, and so many incredible, spectacular sights and landmarks that have been so meaningful to everyone on the group, and I wish I could tell you about all of that. However, I also feel that so many times those at home or on EMU campus hear about how our trip is going and only take away the flashy names of places and things, but don’t realize that the people they care about are changing and growing so much while at these places. So, I wanted to have a blog dedicated to showing a small example of how we’re changing and growing.
We are currently staying at Ecce Homo in the Old City of Jerusalem, and spent the day contemplating Jesus’ final days here in the places mentioned in the Bible. To finish off the day, we all met in the chapel of Ecce Homo and took communion and read scripture together, which was very cool to be able to do as a big group. After we finished our last song, the group was sensing that our service was coming to a conclusion. However, at that moment, one of our group members came forward and began to speak about her experience of losing a loved one a few days ago. This took the group by surprise, because she had not previously opened up about this, and the group was captivated by her sharing and stories. When she was finished, I looked around and could see that most of us were pretty emotional.
This segued into a call for prayer requests, and then something remarkable started with our group. Slowly, one by one, members of the group began to share about family members that were ill or not doing well, and soon it became apparent to me that half the group had offered a prayer request for a loved one. Everyone seemed to be opening up and sharing deep, personal things about themselves that no one had really known or thought about before. We prayed, and then at this point, Janet stood and shared how much the sharing time meant for her, and then she left us with an idea to live by while missing family or feeling unsure about the future: “The journey is home”.
Janet explained how it can feel so alienating being halfway across the world from your family as things might not be going well there, and you can start to feel lost and disoriented. However, she offered that while we may be on the other side of the Atlantic, we have each other, and that’s enough to feel a little bit at home. At this point, it really struck me how much of a home our group was, together. Everyone had opened up and felt so comfortable with one another, and I realized how close we had become as a group. We had truly become a family, and our home was found in one another. And that, my friends, is something that makes a cross-cultural experience irreplaceable. That is what this trip is all about, and what I’ll hold onto much longer than plane tickets or pictures or souvenirs. This trip is teaching us about who we are, and who we will become. And I love that.
Blessings from Jerusalem,
It’s crazy to think that just 3 months ago I was back in the states getting ready for a trip I never thought I would have done. While packing up my suitcase and backpack I was thinking about all that might come out of an experience like this. The new Spanish I would learn, the new family I would hopefully grow close to and the new city I would need to call home for the next few months of my life. I also couldn’t stop thinking about the people I was going with. I would ask myself “Will I grow closer to the friends I already knew or would I end up branching off and growing closer to others while possibly growing farther away from my current friends?” I remember the morning we left, the butterflies all of a sudden showing up in my stomach as I looked through the slightly frosty windows at the friends wishing me off as the bus drove away.
As we arrive in Guatemala I remember noticing the graffiti everywhere in the city, almost as if it was something the city decided to do to give it some character. I also remember noticing all the barbed wire, the men carrying shotguns on every block, the worn down road, and the customized school buses to help give it some personality, and the insane amount of cars. It wasn’t long until I noticed how crazy the drivers are here. But I can’t help but notice that the locals here in Guatemala are some of the best drivers I have ever seen on the road. In the USA we have awful drivers who follow the rules (or attempt to), whereas here in Guatemala we have amazing drivers who think of the rules as a suggestion. And then we have the people. Oh man, the people. Americans could really learn a thing or two from the people who live here. Most people will genuinely say “Buenos dias” as you walk by them in the street on your way to wherever you are headed. People will go out of their way to help you if they think you might be having trouble, and if you ever have a question you can ask just about anyone and they will be willing to help you out.
As for my EMU group, I feel blessed. Going on this trip I don’t think I could have expected to have such a fantastic group of people. Before we left I could say I was friends with maybe 5-6 people. But if you were to ask me now who my friends are on this trip I would have to say there isn’t a person here I wouldn’t consider a close friend. These people are some of the most caring, open-minded, intelligent, fun-loving people I have met and it has really made this trip enjoyable. We have had super deep conversations, insanely hard laughs, and great reflections. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to go to a foreign place with. Thank you all for being so great!
Going on this trip, I would have never guessed that I would learn so much and be pushed so hard. I couldn’t be happier with what I have achieved while being here for 3 seemingly short months. This place is beautiful and full of experiences. I would encourage anyone planning on doing a cross-cultural to pick this one.