EMU Cross-Cultural

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

The Symbolic Universe of Guatemala

22 February 2017

Some of the most important things are invisible and impalpable. Love has no color. Freedom has no taste. Hope has no smell. Peace has no texture. Respect has no sound. For this reason, we have developed symbols. Hearts represent love, for example. But the symbols we use are by no means the objectively correct symbols, so they are therefore free to vary by culture. In the United States, our flag represents freedom, and the eagle carrying an olive branch represents peace.

When we visited the cemetery in our first week of study, our guide, Joel van Dike, explained that to truly engage with a culture, one must enter the “symbolic universe” of a place. To understand Guatemala, one must understand Guatemala’s symbols. In the United States, the number 1776 signifies independence. Here, that number is 1812.

The image attached to this post is of a painting I saw in the Cloud Forest Conservation Center. I will use this to provide an introduction to Guatemala’s symbolic Universe.

The entire image looks roughly like a quetzal in flight. Indeed, the feathers are those of a quetzal. The quetzal is the national bird and also the name of the currency. (Why don’t we do that? As in, gasoline costs 2.50 eagles per gallon; I have ten eagles in my wallet; minimum wage is 7.25 eagles.) The quetzal is mostly green, but it bears many colors. It has elegant tail feathers and is extremely rare. It cannot live in captivity. It follows, then, that the quetzal symbolizes freedom and beauty. Continue reading

Hope and hospitality

Hope and hospitality; the two words that I feel best describe our time in Beit Sahour, Palestine for the past three weeks. Given the opportunity to stay with local families while we’ve studied and explored here has opened my eyes to an exciting culture and to the challenging realities of living in this land. I enjoyed feeling a part of this community through memorable breakfast conversations, morning walks to school, and searching the friendly streets for favorite lunch items and practicing our progressing Arabic, of course! Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus, Jericho, Ramallah and many other destinations have been awe-inspiring classroom settings. I’ve never learned more about the rich history and capability of a people, than I have here. With an instilled sense of home, I have felt hospitality. With an informed sense of resilience, I have felt hopeful.

I think it’s safe to say this has been an unforgettable stay in Beit Sahour. Nonetheless we all have different outlets on this journey, and have been actively expressing them. Some students have been willing to share excerpts of their personal reflections of their time in Beit Sahour. Whether it be through poem, prayer, picture, or journal, we hope you can get even a small glimpse of our impactful experiences. Enjoy!

-Elizabeth Resto

Continue reading



Are we comfortable?
Being so far away from friends and family
Not understanding half of what is going on
Struggling to communicate what we are thinking?

Are we comfortable…
Staying with families who don’t have hot water and others who do
Living in a gated community with guards
Getting catcalled in the street?

Are we comfortable…
Seeing kids working in the dump to earn $3-4 a day
Eating at a McDonalds that is nicer than the ones in the states
Having an indigenous maid our same age

Are we comfortable…
Saying no to the kid who asks for a few coins
Walking in the street after our phones were stolen
Enjoying hot springs after a breathtaking hike up a volcano?

Are we comfortable…
Sitting on the toilet for the 7th time in a day with a trashcan in front of us
Sticking out no matter how hard we try to fit in
With the countless effects our country has had on Guatemala


Are THEY comfortable?
With our awkwardness
The history of our country
Our money, our power?

Are they comfortable…
Hosting someone they hardly know, a stranger
When we need so much help and attention
When we just don’t get it

Are they comfortable…
With our Spanish blunders,
Sharing life with us,
Inviting us into their family?

Are they comfortable…
Talking to a bunch of look-like-tourists,
Having people take pictures of their ordinary life,
Sharing their lives and stories with people they will never see again

Are we comfortable here?
Are they comfortable with us?

-Sarah Beth Ranck

K’ekchi Village
A Weekend in a K’ekchi Village

The civilized are just like us
The uncivilized are just like us
We find ourselves the same place
Enjoying the same things: conversation,
Food, and fellowship, the presence of laughter.
We are brainwashed with the reality
Of wealth and happiness, yet we can
Never stop or even slow down and enjoy
The various presences of each other and
Our qualities.

We create the stigmas and stereotypes, but
When a pure two year-old screams at
Your sight, you realize the almighty white person
Was a stigma all his own.
WE pushed them to the margins
Without listening or seeing.

They have JUST as much to offer.
Probably more.
We just need to slow down.
Strip away the electronics, brand names,
The English language, and the stigmas.
In this moment, when we are no more
And no less than them, we realize
We are all the same.

-Emily Clatterbuck

Jordan: desert community to current issues


Marhaban! (Hello in Arabic)

Our group is now settling into host family life in Beit Sahour, a small town just outside of Bethlehem. We are looking forward to the next three weeks of getting to know our host families, and embracing the challenge of learning Arabic.

Before we arrived here we spent eight days in the wonderful country of Jordan. Each day was full of experiences and learnings in many different areas such as Biblical sites, history, and modern day issues. After spending a night in a resort in Aqaba (a good place to regroup after a somewhat stressful border crossing), we traveled to a Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum. Here we got our first taste of Jordanian hospitality, and even though the cold desert winds would blow through the camp, we were very content in sitting around a fire, sipping tea, enjoying delicious food, dancing, and enjoying each other’s company. A highlight of our time here was a trek through the desert on camels.

From Wadi Rum we traveled to Petra, the ancient Nabatean city carved in stone. We all marveled at the beauty that the Treasury and Monastery buildings displayed. We enjoyed a free day choosing different hikes to go on and being in God’s beautiful creation.

Our last stop in Jordan was the capital city of Amman where we spent three nights. We met with the current MCC representatives in Jordan and got to hear about the work they are currently doing with the refugee crisis. It is good to hear that our Mennonite community is supplying aid and support to these refugees at a time when our government is helping a small percentage.

A highlight of Amman was also listening to presentations about the Syria conflict and the religion of Islam. I think it is safe to say that these presentations opened all of our minds to the realities of the world that we live in. We are looking forward to many more of these experiences as we continue with our travels in the coming months.

Thank you all for your continued support in thought and prayer.

-Erik Peachey on behalf of the group.


Exploring culture with host families and hard realities

31 Jan 2017

By now, we’ve finally gotten accustomed to our new families and new routines. At first, of course, everything was unexpected. Before we left, we had hours of orientation to help us prepare mentally and emotionally for the culture. But every family is a culture unto its own. Every zone in the city is a different culture and the city is different from the rural areas. How could we have been prepared for that?

My host family consists of my sister, our two parents, and my mother’s mother. This, of course, is discounting extended family that we sometimes visit. My father is from Belize and my mother is from Guatemala and they met in seminary. My dad and sister can speak English fluently, but they never do because they want to help me learn. We go to a Mennonite church that runs a literacy program that both my parents teach at. We all hold hands and pray before every meal and we listen to Christian radio in the car on the way to school. My dad teaches Spanish at CASAS and my sister is the receptionist. My parents don’t like it when I ride the bus because they fear I’ll be robbed (a legitimate fear).

But all our families are different. Some have hosted students before, some haven’t. Some eat pizza and burgers and other U.S. food while others eat more traditional food. Some families have servants, some party hard, some have friends over constantly, some live in gated communities (called colonies), some have pets. But should this be surprising? Don’t we have such diversity back home?

Several of us have expressed discomfort regarding the issue of servants. My family doesn’t have a servant, but my aunt’s family does. When I first went to the house, I was introduced to everyone but the young indigenous girl in the kitchen. Before the meal, everyone was invited to the circle of prayer, even a baby, but not the girl with shorter stature and darker skin. At home, we have a strong value of egalitarianism, so seeing someone treating someone else as inferior made me (and others) deeply uncomfortable.

Not only are we in a different country, but we are in a different city, a different neighborhood, and a different family. It’s only been two weeks, but I’ve built relationships with my host grandmother, mother, father, and sister that I hope will last past this experience.

-Robert Propst

An Ethnocentric Moment

On Thursday January 26th, four of us were walking to the local store. Before we got there, however, a man with a gun stopped us to steal our phones. We are all physically fine, but we’ve now been introduced to one of the realities of Guatemala. After the incident, countless people shared their similar stories with us. What might’ve been meant for comfort turned into fear and anxiousness for me. As a cross cultural experience should do, my eyes have been opened to a harsh reality here. As the weekend passed, I had time to even reflect on the man who ripped away our security. Something in his life has brought him to the point where he can morally justify his actions; that’s the real loss here. Our phones can be replaced, and our security will again return, but the hardships (from various avenues probably) in this mans life will be with him (mentally and/or physically) for the rest of his life.
-Emily Clatterbuck

From Cairo to Luxor to Sinai

Hello from Jordan!
This is our first night in a country other than Egypt, and it is safe to say that we are all excited to see what adventures this new place holds. But first, here is a quick summary of our time in Egypt.
When we first arrived in Egypt, we drove through crowded, loud streets to the infamous Ambassador Hotel. Little did we know that the madness in the streets was only a fraction of the Cairo traffic we would experience over the next week.  We spent three nights in the Ambassador Hotel, touring ancient ruins and papyrus shops during the day, and getting to know each other and the night life of Cairo in the evening.
We left Cairo and drove for a few hours through the desert to Anafora, an Orthoox Christian Retreat Center. The compound was full of white buildings with colorful carpets and lots of cats. While at Anafora we explored their grounds, which featured an impressive replica of a Biblical-era tabernacle and mud brick village. We also participated in their Epiphany celebration service and candle lighting. Anafora was a stark contrast to the busyness of Cairo, and many of us found it a helpful place to unwind from the travel and chaos of the first few days.
After Anafora we flew to Luxor, another city located along the Nile River. Luxor was full of ancient ruins such as the Karnak and Luxor Temple. It also had a small market where many of the shopkeepers were open for conversation as well as business. A highlight of Luxor, and of the trip so far, was a hot air balloon ride featuring breathtaking views of the Nile and surrounding countryside just as the sun was burning the mist from the fields.
We finished our time in Egypt at Saint Catherine’s monastery, where we stayed for two nights. It took around six hours to drive through the Sinai desert, passing under the Suez Canal and through various military checkpoints. The monastery is at the base of a mountain range that includes Mount Sinai, one of the most likely options for the mountain that Moses climbed when he received the Ten Commandments. Saint Catherine’s is also the home of the burning bush, and several of the oldest relics and manuscripts connected to Christianity. On our second day at Saint Catherine’s, we climbed Mount Sinai. The mountain posed a serious challenge, but we reached the summit in plenty of time to enjoy the incredible sunset view and sing a few hymns that seemed to fill the thin air with praise.
We left Saint Catherine’s early Wednesday morning and spent most of the day traveling east through the Sinai and then along the Gulf of Acaba, heading towards the Israeli border.  At the border we said goodbye to Samer, an Egyptian who had been our guide through Egypt since day one. He had welcomed us into his country with oranges and guava juice, and had filled each day with knowledgeable lectures and an abundance of fun facts about the region. Leaving Samer at the border was definitely a loss, and it also revealed yet again our privilege as American citizens to travel basically freely between countries.
We crossed in to Israel, where the buildings and people immediately looked different than what we had seen in Egypt. About half an hour later we crossed into Jordan, where the buildings and people again looked different. Three countries in one day is a bit of a challenge for a group of thirty-three, but now we are settled into Jordan for the next few days.

Our time in the Middle East has already been a whirl wind of new places, faces, and food. As one member said, if we went home today we would think back on the week and a half in Egypt as a really great and transforming cross-cultural. It is incredible to realize we still have three more months of discoveries to make and friendships to build!

Peace to you all!
-Grace Burkhart for the group


CASAS – Getting Started

Hello readers of EMU, who hope to read about our adventures! You should be excited to know that we landed safely in Guatemala and are currently with our host families. First a little bit about our trip over. We flew from Dulles Airport to San Salvador in a flight of nearly 4 hours.  From there another half hour flight to Guatemala City, to pass over the mountains that would have made a car ride even longer.

When we arrived in CASAS (Central America Study and Service) to spend a couple nights before being introduced to our host families. On Friday we were given a diagnostics test to find out in which level of Spanish we would be starting out. We took a test and were given a sample of what a day of class would be like. The sample of what class was like surprised many of us, realizing that we were to be using our Spanish a lot sooner than we thought. While that stressed some out, others were relieved to start classes sooner than expected. After a quick trip to the mall to exchange money and buy some essentials, we rested up for the next day when we would meet our host families.

Saturday started with moving out of our rooms, signifying the new transition that was about to occur. We started with a history lecture about Guatemala, which included current issues of what needs to be done today, and why Guatemalans were stopped when they tried to change. We then headed out to Zona 1, where the National Palace and National Cathedral are. We took in the energy of what this had to offer with stores, both traditional and modern, and a large plaza to explore. Then returning to CASAS, we waited nervously as our host families approached us, before we were introduced to them. We joined them at their house and were introduced into our home away from home. Sunday was to be with our host family before returning to CASAS for classes Monday morning.

-Jonatan Moser


Dancing around chandeliers and the familiar

December 11, 2016

When I arrived in London’s Heathrow Airport, I experienced one of the most significant culture shocks of the trip. I went to the cashier, prepared to pay for my salad and smoothie, he spoke to me, and I, having no idea what he said, froze in confusion. Now this confused freezing was actually a common feeling for me on the trip, especially in Prague where Czech is spoken. But in this case, the shock I experienced was when the cashier, seeing me frozen, repeated the price for my lunch in English and I realized that he had been speaking English all along—not German, Hungarian, Italian, Czech, or French—and I had not understood a word he said.

Because of the English language and the many cultural links between the US and the UK, I had expected London to be the most familiar country of any we visited. However, as evidenced by my embarrassing encounter with the British cashier, London’s very familiarity was what made it feel so strange. So familiar—and yet lorries and taxis barreled down the “wrong” side of the street and people spoke with accents that could have come straight out of Downton Abbey. Still, London is much closer to home than Prague (our previous stop)—a small city pierced by medieval towers, still learning to shake off the shadow of oppression (by the Nazis and the Communists) in its recent past. London, instead, is a bustling modern city, once the crown jewel of a vast empire, and still one of the wealthiest (and most expensive) cities in the world. Here, instead of boasting an historic centre, history is to be found in small pockets amidst the whir off traffic and the glare of skyscrapers—Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Globe Theatre, and so on.

This contrasted with Prague, where there was a definitive old part of town where the highlights are the statue-lined Charles Bridge and the astronomical clock tower, a device so spectacular in its day that the mayor of the town had the clockmaker’s eyes gouged out just so he couldn’t build another one anywhere else. Or so the legend goes. Speaking of gore, the Tower of London is an excellent place to go if you want to see an overpriced gift shop located in a former dungeon/torture chamber and hear a tale of the most botched execution in English history. Enough said.

My favorite part of the trip to the Tower of London was probably when we got to see the crown jewels. They funneled us and all the other tourists into a dark room, then stuck us on a conveyor belt that 31309488710_9e497b7acf_kscooted us past all the crowns of England in order—each of them imprisoned in their own glass box with small lights hitting their enormous jewels in all of the right places—diamonds and rubies and sapphires, all larger than your eyes. London is soft on the eyes, by the way, often a hazy grey.

The only morning we ran into rain was when we went to Oxford. Despite the rain, this was a thrilling day for me because we got to eat lunch at the Eagle and Child, where I saw the room that the Inklings, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’ writing club, used to meet! Another thrill for the nerdier portion of our group was seeing Ian McKellen (Gandalf in Lord of the Rings), Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard in Star Trek) and Owen Teale (Ser Allister Thorne in Game of Thrones) at a performance of No Man’s Land in London’s West End. This was a special performance for everyone because it was the first play since Vienna that was actually in English! We saw four performances in Prague, all of them in Czech, which we enjoyed because of their visual complexity—whether it was actors floating between stage and screen, puppets and books reenacting the Holocaust, or actors dancing around in bear costumes and traditional garb. In both Prague and London, we had the chance to see Shakespeare on stage, which was wonderful! Both performances were largely modernized in terms of set, costumes, and dramatic interpretation, but the language in London was still undeniably Elizabethan. While in London, we also visited a Renaissance style indoor theatre, a small venue built out of English oak and lit only by beeswax candles. I must admit, I got a bit nervous when the actors were dancing around the flaming candelabras.

If you think about it, the cross-cultural experience is a lot like dancing around chandeliers on a dark stage—beautiful, exhilarating, but often downright nerve-wracking. But worth it? Worth almost catching your skirts on fire? Well, I’ve done the dance and most of the beeswax tapers are still burning. So I think, yes. Yes. I’d dance that dance again.

Until next time, lovely Europe. Adieu.

-Kaitlin Abrahams

Free Travel

If you were given the opportunity to travel anywhere in the United States for 8 days, where would you go? As the month of November was coming closer, the members of the group were beginning to plan for more traveling.  Despite the towns, cities, and countries the students have already visited, this experience would be none like the rest. From November 5th till the 12th, the students and leaders of the group were allowed the opportunity to travel throughout Europe before meeting up again in Prague on the 13th. To help plan our adventures we were given extra per diem to cover any travel, housing, or food costs that we may encounter.  In groups ranging between three and six people, and with some traveling solo, the students chose destinations of their choice and traveled by plane or train.  For most it was a relaxing retreat from the city life and busy day to day schedules, yet students did experience some stress on the way. Nonetheless, hearing stories from Ireland, Italy, and many other places reminded me how lucky we are to be on this trip.

After a long speed train ride, four juniors landed at their rooftop terrace in the city of Rome, Italy. This group consisted of Michael Austin, Corey Hostetler, Colton Frey, and Thane Hostetler. While staying in Rome for four consecutive nights, the guys took in the Italian culture by exploring the historical city and seeing gorgeous views from their rooftop. A big highlight was attending an A.S. Roma verses Bologna F.C. soccer game. The guys enjoyed the game greatly while seeing the crowd react as Roma beat Bologna 3-0 with one player scoring all of the goals — a hat-trick! Indulging in local food was another highlight of Rome. Finding gluten-free food options was challenging at times for Colton Frey during his stay in Vienna. Thankfully, Rome had a plethora of gluten-free food options that were both reasonably priced and delicious. Ironically, while experiencing the public transportation services in Rome, the buses there were inconsistent with their arrival times, unlike Vienna where bus schedules were efficiently timed. After Rome, the next destination was a country side farm house in the town of Hombrechtikon, Switzerland, just 40 minutes away from Zurich. Relaxing in the open country was a nostalgic moment as all of the guys grew up in small towns. Walking around the open areas and talking for hours was an excellent break from the expensive aesthetic of Zurich. Altogether, the guys enjoyed their time together in Italy and Switzerland.

When the country of Ireland comes to mind, most think of unique accents, gorgeous countryside, and a vibrant city life in Dublin. In this case, a group of students experienced just that and more! For William Stanley, Hannah Cash, Celestyna Hoefle, and Alaina Bingler, visiting the Cliffs of Moher in southern Ireland was their favorite part of their experience. Being out in warmer weather and seeing the ocean was breathtaking. While others were exploring the coast, Esther Wallie-Ola Ajayi and Caleb Townsend stayed in the city of Dublin and enjoyed the local scene. The two of them went to restaurants and cafes around Dublin and had the experience of befriending students studying around the city. Conversations about everyday life, film, and music filled the room as well as Esther’s talented singing voice during an open mic night. The weather in Dublin was gloomy and cold most days so downtime at the airbnb (bed and breakfast) was a plus to unwind and reflect on the trip so far. For Celestyna, leaving the everyday life in Vienna was especially difficult because of the freedoms that she had and the memories that she made in Vienna. Getting used to new surroundings is a usual adjustment for her as she grew up for most of her life in Thailand, which is very different from American and European culture. However, every step of the way Cela was grateful and continues to grow as a person with every destination that she goes to.

The great region of Tuscany was the first destination for Kaitlin Abrahams, Liesl Graber, and Jacinda Stahly on their grand adventure. For three nights, the girls stayed in an airbnb with a top floor view that was perfect to see after a long day of fun. The first adventure was seeing an orchestra and not one, but two choirs perform the Lord of the Rings soundtrack live while the movie played in the background. Next, they went to see the famous sculpture of David in the Accademia Gallery. Between those two highlights, the girls enjoyed a lot of authentic Italian pasta, gelato, and coffee while even practicing their bartering techniques at the local markets! Using their charm, smiles, and the classic phrase “we are college students,” they convinced vendors to lower the prices of handmade purses and cashmere scarves, how lucky! After Florence, the girls had a rough train ride to Nice, France where they stayed for the other five nights of their free travel. The trip consisted of four different train connections and carrying bulky, uncooperative luggage around for about twelve hours. Once arriving at Nice, they were able to finally take a lift to their airbnb apartment and enjoy the small town by the Mediterranean. Nice is an excellent town for people who enjoy a special mix between French and Italian cuisine and beautiful pebble beaches. As Kaitlin Abrahams describes, “the water was icy cold, but some of the brightest turquoise water I have ever seen!” Their trip was a dream come true for them and the memories they made will always be remembered.

This free travel opportunity allowed me to see my family in Konjic, Bosnia and Herzegovina again after five years. Growing up I visited Konjic several times so I was already a seasoned traveler when it comes to long flights. There I spent many days catching up with old friends and spending quality time with my grandmother in her flat.

img_2253After free travel we all reunited in Prague, Czech Republic on the 13th of November where we all arrived safely to Sophie’s Hostel and told stories of our free travel experiences. Prague is a city known for its long history and amazing architecture and the group was excited to learn and reminisce on living together in a hostel again like in Salzburg.

Thank you to everyone who has supported the leaders and students of this trip in any way. Without you none of this would be possible. Your constant prayers are greatly appreciated and we are excited to tell you what is happening next!

Continue to follow our posts on Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag #adieuemu and we’ll catch up with you soon!

– Matej Gligorevic