EMU Cross-Cultural

Week Two: Vienna

Group photo after tea, coffee, and snacks at Ilse’s apartment.

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.

Inside the Wiener Riesenrad

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.

-Miriam Beck

View from the top

NAVAJO NATION: from our visit to the STAR (Service To All Relations) charter school

STAR (starschool.org)

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.

-Brendon Salladay

Photo credit is Jack Hummel. Featured in the photo are STAR students and Joe Hall, Brendon Salladay, Kyle Salladay, and Griffin Stanley.



First explorations in Vienna

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.

-Hannah Menefee


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.

-Emma Yoder

The Journey is Home

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,

-Adam Harnish

Prayers for Coach O. from Jerusalem

Whether you’re at home with your loved ones or across the world engrossed in other cultures, no one can remain untouched by news of friends and family experiencing deep suffering. Our cross-cultural group was saddened and upset by the news about former coach Britten Olinger and the extent of the injury he sustained in the accident. Two of the students in the group had been coached by Britten during his time at EMU. Many others had not personally known him but had known of him and the impact he made on others while he coached at our university.
Concern for Britten and his recovery is falling on ears across the world, and prayers are being lifted up all over. Our group wanted to share both our prayers for Britten’s health battles, as well as a deeply touching experience we were privileged to have in praying for him.
The morning we heard the news, our itinerary had already been planned weeks/months in advance. In the midst of hearing about the incredible suffering of those at home, God granted us the small blessing of being able to pray for Britten in some of the most sacred, meaningful places. The first stop on our itinerary brought us to a location known as “the high place,” which is a place thought to be the location of the last supper, as well as the location of the Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was first delivered to the world. Here we held a time of devotion and prayer for Britten and all the loved ones affected by the accident. We prayed that in the midst of their pain and fear, Britten and his family would feel God’s presence and peace holding them in His arms. We prayed that their loved ones would be blessed to be able to bring them much needed love and comfort. We prayed God would hold Britten in his hands, watching over his life and healing his body.
A scripture had been chosen to be shared during this time, from John 5. This scripture tells the story of Jesus healing a lame man at the pools of Bethesda. For us, this was a testament to the miracles of healing that we know He is capable of, and a prayer for Britten both for a miracle as such, and for patience and strength. The pools of Bethesda and the location of this miracle, unknown to those who chose the scripture, was one of the locations we were to visit that day. Britten and his family were on all of our minds while we stood in a place that had witnessed God’s healing hands.
This family continues to be on our minds and hearts as we travel, eagerly awaiting the news of progress that is beginning to happen. We are continuing to lift up prayers for healing, comfort, and peace for Britton, his friends and family, and his doctors and health specialists.
-Sierra Martin

Unexpected Greatness

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.

-Kieran O’Leary

International Women’s Day

8 March 2017

In honor of international women’s day, we did the only logical thing to celebrate: and that was eating cake. With much glee, we sang and celebrated the birthdays of those from February and March, in addition to celebrating women and the women in our lives. After our cake break, the guys so kindly offered to wash our dishes. Considering there are only 5 guys in our group plus Jim, we women had some time to kill until the guys were ready to return to Spanish class.

As we climbed the stairs to our classrooms our teachers (the majority of whom are women) decided to start an impromptu dance party with all the ladies. The boom box was brought out and we laughed and danced and sang. As I looked around at all the women around me, I couldn’t help but be incredibly grateful for the smiles, laughter and being of each woman. I am grateful for each woman for being who she is. As I have struggled with the machismo culture that is very much a part of everyday life in Guatemala, it was so healing to see women laughing and enjoying time in fellowship. I am so grateful for our teachers who have so graciously adopted us gringos as their students and patiently helped us to increase our Spanish speaking abilities in addition to teaching us much about life in Guatemala. This joyful event gave me hope. Hope because even in the midst of injustice there is hope, there is joy.

I will forever be grateful to Guatemala and for the people in Guatemala such as my beloved host family and teachers for showing me a different world, for showing me how much joy there is in learning new things, in diversity. Sometimes this makes one question their own culture, or question the ideas from a new culture, but that’s okay. It is okay to ask questions. Keep asking and exploring. There is so much to be learned from people different than you. To all the women, thank you. You are valued, loved, and important. Keep being you.

– Mariah Denlinger

Frequently used phrases

1 March 2017

Frequently Used Phrases

When I first thought about learning a new language, I thought the most difficult thing would be the grammar. While grammar is tricky, I’ve found the hardest thing to be the vocabulary. You can understand how the grammar works all you want, but it is meaningless when you don’t know the words. Considering I am quite new to learning Spanish, my vocabulary is limited, which provides a space for repetitive phrases. I wanted to provide a list of some of those phrases with an example to go along with it.

  1. Estoy lleno (I am full): After a giant plate of beans, several tortillas, a couple pieces of bread for my first serving, and maybe some pineapple, my mom will ask, “¿algo más?” In which I usually respond with, “estoy lleno,” because if I eat another bite, I’d probably explode.
  2. Si (yes): The word I usually use when asked a question.
  3. ¿Que? (What?): The thing I ask when I realize it wasn’t a yes or no question.
  4. Otra vez (another time): When I need to hear a question or answer another time.
  5. Buen provecho: a phrase you use before a meal, during the meal, when you pass people eating, and to dismiss yourself from the table. It is similar to “bon appetite” or “enjoy your meal.”
  6. Perdón (excuse me/sorry): Used when you have to shove your way off the seemingly impossible packed buses. Also used when you don’t understand a word or phrase even though you desperately want to communicate.
  7. Entonces (Then/So): The Spanish equivalent to “like” or “um.” Used often when you’re trying to think of the next word to say.
  8. Mi estómago me duele (my stomach hurts me): Usually used when someone is infected with giardia or amoebas and needs to tell their family that you’re vomiting or having diarrhea but can’t communicate that properly to them.
  9. Buenos días/tardes/noches (good morning/afternoon/night): When you pass someone on the street you say one of these things… but it’s always a mystery what the proper times are to say which one.
  10. Muchas Gracias (Thank you so much): Any time someone does something good for me, which is a lot. Like everyday when my family puts a delicious meal in front of me or when my host mom helps we get through my sickness. When the man in front of me at the panadería purchased me a pan de agua without ever speaking to me. Or when my host dad in the K’ekchi village showed me awesome photo locations and when he presented me with a hand woven book cover. And those don’t even count for the times it hasn’t been said, but am incredibly thankful for. Like all the times I laugh with my family, whether it is laughing at a mistake I made in Spanish (like saying I cut up a horse when I meant to say onion) or playing a high-tension card game. Or the fact that I feel like I have a real relationship with my teacher here and can talk to her about anything. Even the old woman that smiles at the five gringos walking past her every morning, saying buenos días, I am grateful for.

Despite the language barrier, I have seen, time and time again, the love and compassion of the people here. It has truly been an eye-opening and awe-inspiring experience.

-Riley Swartzendruber

The Q’eqchi and reflections on culture

27 February 2017

In between our two three-week semesters of Spanish classes in Guatemala City, our group had a 10-day trip to Alta Verapaz and Peten. These are departments in the north of Guatemala. During this time, we experienced three different cultures and activities. We began our week with a host stay in a Q’eqchi village called Xucaneb. The Q’eqchi are indigenous Mayan people and live a very simple lifestyle. The second part of our journey was at a place called the Community Cloud Forest Conservation, which focuses on education for indigenous women and children, conserving the cloud forest in the mountains of Guatemala and sustainable living practices. The third part of our journey was to the lowlands in Peten, where the climate is very warm and the scenery is different than the village and highlands of Alta Verapaz. We visited Tikal, which are ruins of an ancient Mayan city-state, as well as relaxed for a day on Lake Peten Itzal.

After our time in these three places, Jim and Ann gave us a journal prompt to think of a bigger question from each of these experiences. These are some of my reflections from my time in the village.

This experience brought up many questions for me. I was blown away by the kindness and generosity of my family and all those in the village. There is so much they gave to me. However, while at the Cloud Forest Conservation Center, Rob Cahill (our host) said something along the lines of “There is beauty in culture but there are also parts of culture that are toxic. We can recognize that and try to start from there.”

While beautiful and absolutely heart warming, I keep pondering what parts of culture are toxic in the village? It was difficult to feel like myself there. One, because it was harder to communicate. Two, because I knew there were certain expectations placed on me because I was female. So there are two parts to my reflection. The first is: what did I feel made me uncomfortable in the village and what parts that I think should perhaps be changed (as a Westerner and not knowing a lot of their culture)? The second is: What are parts of my culture that are toxic and should be changed?

In the village, I felt uncomfortable with three main things. There were other things that definitely pushed me, but these were in good and growing ways. The first that I have been reflecting on is the difference in age between my host mom and my host dad. While I really enjoyed my family, their clear age difference made me sad. He told me he was older than her and she looked like she was only a few years older than me. They didn’t tell me if their marriage was arranged but it could have been. (This being said, I was very much in awe of their relationship. My father treated my mother with respect and kindness, all while participating in what I view as traditional gender roles.) Who knows. It made me think about the future of my younger host sister. Will she marry young? Will she be able to choose her future?

The second thing I felt uncomfortable with is the economic situation of our village. My host father explained to me that the broccoli industry and company (from the States) has done wonders for the village, as has Christianity.  However, this village is dependent on this company now. Yes, there is a market, but what if one part of the chain collapses? Would the farmers be able to switch back to subsistence farming? Would the soil be too used to do so? What happens when a community is solely dependent on one economic income? In my readings and studies previous to this, it always helps to diversify.

I was also uncomfortable with the continued discrimination. I realize and own that I have deeply seeded egalitarian beliefs. However, between the things I observed based on gender, I felt disturbed by the lack of value placed on different people’s lives. To be fair, in the greater Guatemalan society, there is less value placed on indigenous lives. But that does not justify women being mistreated and not given opportunities. I was startled by the segregation of gender in church, with women on one side and men on the other. I also was surprised at how few of the girls (in our EMU group) were taken to the broccoli fields. I wanted to see them and understand more, but my father said I wouldn’t have been interested in his work. Maybe it’s too judgmental to say they don’t place value on women’s lives… It is a different kind of value than I am used to, to be sure. It also pains me to know that the treatment of mentally ill people in these villages is so… uniformed.  (Two of our group members saw this first hand). Mental illness is still so foreign and shameful for communities and families. I think there are many parallels between that and how people in the USA disregard those with disabilities. This was just a wake up call and a way to see very clearly the treatment of those who are different. There was value on the mentally ill person, but our group has concluded that we don’t need to agree with the way they placed value on her.

All this being said, I am questioning what culture is and how to recognize parts that would be beneficial to change. (I have a long reflection about what parts of my personal culture I think would be beneficial to change, but for length’s sake, I have left it out.) The village and the people showed me so much beauty. I felt so full and gratified by my time there. Even though I disagree with some aspects, I still hold an immense respect and gratitude for my time with my family. Yet this is a reminder to never stop questioning what makes me uncomfortable- wherever I am- be it in the States, my family in the city, or in a Mayan village, there is always more to analyze and ponder than what meets the eye.

-Katrina Poplett

I will miss this country

24 February 2017

I will miss this country…

I will miss my host family. Who took in a foreigner and accepted me so graciously into their home. Demonstrating so much love in their hearts, caring for me and feeding me, and sharing their culture so willingly.

I will miss the food. The simplicity of rice, beans, eggs, and tortillas, seasoned to perfection, given to us daily, but yet still never seeming to get old.

I will miss the incredible scenery that surrounds the city. The mountains and the ambiguous crevices of the earth, and watching the volcanoes, spewing out steam if you’re lucky to catch it.

I will miss the greetings. Being able to walk into a house, hugging and kissing everyone without feeling discomfort, expressing how happy and excited I am to see them, even if I have never met them.

I won’t miss the crazy hustle and bustle of the city. Of pushing and shoving my way off the bus each day, to waking up to the constant beeping and honking of horns at 6:00 a.m.

I won’t miss the poverty I witness each day. Watching young kids selling things on the streets for a little extra cash, or beggars with lost limbs walking up to the windows of cars or sitting on street corners, and families working in the basurero.

I won’t miss the catcalling, the whistles and the constant stares. The uneasy feeling that arises in my stomach when I walk somewhere alone, always being alert and aware of my surroundings in any scenario.

I won’t miss seeing men with shotguns on the streets. Which make me feel even more unsafe but are apparently there to make people feel safer.

But through all these things, both good and bad, I have felt such a genuine love from these people I have learned so much, and yet there is still so much to learn. But my eyes have been opened wider, and Guatemala will always be a place close to my heart.

-Kayla Sauder