Life-Shaping Cross-Culturals

July 17th, 2012


Pat and Loren Swartzendruber (seated in second row, third and fourth from left, beside Jim and Ann Hershberger) connected with the Guatemala cross-cultural group in the spring of 2009.

Tim Swartzendruber ’95, one of Pat’s and my four children, recently recalled his cross-cultural with these words:

When I compare my seven semesters on EMU’s campus to my cross-cultural semester in France and Ivory Coast, it’s like comparing coffee to espresso – both are fantastic, but the latter is doubly intense and stimulating. The intellectual, spiritual, and social growth that I experienced on campus was even more pronounced during (and after) that one semester overseas.

My 27 classmates and I saw Anabaptist values modeled by French Mennonites, learned from our caring host families in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, delved into West African literature, culture, and religion, dramatically improved our French language skills, and laughed and cried together as we experienced varying degrees of culture shock. Two buddies from that group would eventually be groomsmen in my wedding, and several others also became life-long friends. I will always be grateful to Dr. Carroll and Nancy Yoder, our faculty leaders.

Now, living in the Washington D.C. area, I’m friends with alumni of well-known colleges who invariably say to me, “Man, I wish I had that kind of opportunity as a college student!” One of my greatest motivations in working as an EMU advancement officer is to provide a similar opportunity – a life-shaping gift, really – to future EMU students.

I can’t improve on Tim’s testimony, but I can provide a bit of background to it.

When EMU’s faculty voted in 1981 to require cross-cultural study for all undergraduates, they were venturing into uncharted waters. As far as anyone knew, EMU would be the first liberal arts college in North America with such a requirement.

The faculty and staff wondered how they would shuttle off-campus students through sequential courses, when the first level is typically offered in the fall and the second in the spring? And how would EMU’s sports teams be impacted?

Yet the faculty, led by academic dean Al Keim, held that a truly sound education requires us to recognize that we are members of a “global village” and need the insights and empathy necessary for our that village to be sustainable. Time has proven the validity of their bold initiative 30 years ago. When I talk to alumni today they tell me almost without fail that their cross-cultural was the most important part of their EMU experience.

I hope to see you at Homecoming and Parents Weekend in October when we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of our beloved cross-cultural programs.

Loren Swartzendruber
Class of ’76, MDiv ’79, DMin