EMU Intercultural Learning

Guatemala: Independent Travel Week

During the week of spring break for the rest of EMU, the Guatemala intercultural students had the chance to travel in small groups around Guatemala, Belize, and El Salvador. We planned the trips ourselves and were given the opportunity to go anywhere we wanted (with the approval of our leaders, of course). Here’s a short summary from each group about their trip! 

Ally, Miranda, and Eli hiked up Indians Nose outside San Juan La Laguna and watched the sunrise.

Miranda, Ally, and I spent our week around Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. We were in Panajachel for three nights before we took a boat across the lake to San Pedro where we stayed for the rest of the week. Our three main highlights of the trip were zip lining, weaving, and a sunrise hike in addition to the numerous tuk-tuk rides, exploring all the little towns around the lake, and meeting other travelers. Zip lining was an exciting experience with awesome views. It had seven different lines with two of them being long rides over the lake. During our weaving class, we each got to make our own scarf. We were all very tired and had some sore backs by the end of the six-hour class but it definitely gave us a new appreciation of what goes into handmade textiles. For the sunrise hike, we were picked up at 4:00 am along with a group of others. Indians Nose wasn’t a long hike but was very steep. The view was well worth the early morning as we all enjoyed a beautiful sunrise over the lake/volcanos while drinking organic chocolate. I’d say it was a successful week!

– Eli Ours

Lane, Arelys, Kate, and Marie Isabella went to El Salvador and learned a lot about the assassination of Catholic Bishop Romero. 

The Peace is Won 

The peace is won with bloodied hand and the tear-streaked cheeks of children.
The peace is bought and paid by stainless steel cages and the cries of innocence.
The peace reminds of a time not far past, of another impudent government of control.
What cost does the woman running fearless after dark believe can be justly paid, each hard-won right wrest from the freedom and life of another?
The people rejoice a cool dictator, deliverance for many and the cost of the few.
A woman chokes her cry under the bush of hidden safety, ears strained for familiar cries.
The peace is won with bloodied hands, but is held and used with clean ones.

Sunset at El Tunco, El Salvador: Lane, Kate, Arelys, Marie Isabella

-Lane Burkholder


Our group went to El Salvador for free travel. Our first stop was Santa Ana where we hiked a volcano and ate lots of pupusas. We then made our way down the coast by public bus (which was an adventure) where we settled in La Libertad. We enjoyed some days at the beach, surfing, swimming, and relaxing in the sun. Finally, we bussed over to San Salvador to learn about Monseñor Romero and visit the national artisan market and the newly opened library. We enjoyed connecting and comparing what we have been learning in Guatemala about gangs and the civil war to El Salvador. We are grateful for the people that we met along the way who were willing to help us and share with us their perspectives, and the delicious pupusas.

– Hollyn Miller 

Rose garden created to remember the 6 Jesuits and 2 women murdered, Centro Monseñor Romero at Universidad Centroamericana








Semuc Champey!

Naomi Kratzer, Ella Brubaker, and I decided to stay in Guatemala for our free travel week to explore some of the northeastern region of  the country.  We spent a day splashing around in the crystalline pools of Semuc Champey (look it up!) tucked deep into the jungle of Alta Verapaz. Swimming through a cave while attempting to keep alive the only light source (a candle), and cliff jumping by a waterfall straight from a storybook were some other highlights. But nothing good comes easy, as we spent the good part of two days getting to and from Semuc. A valuable lesson we learned during our week was to add about 3 hours on top of every ETA, except for bus rides helmed by a driver who either had no fear or didn’t know where the brake was. 

After our time in the jungle pools, we continued our northeast trek to Rio Dulce, where we canoed and explored El Castillo de San Felipe, a fortress built in 1652 to fend off pirates (spoiler alert: the pirates won). We also spent some time in Livingston, a Caribbean coastal town only reachable by a boat ride through the river, flanked by jungle, granite cliffs, and some mean-looking pelicans. Livingston is certainly a unique place, with a large Garífuna presence (look it up!) and the only white sand beach in Guatemala, which like most things in this area, is only accessible by a boat ride. 

And just as we were safely tucked in our return bus home, we had our last adventure as our 5-hour trip stretched painfully into 8 due to a broken down bus. But on the bright side, I got to have my first ride in a double-decker bus, which thankfully rescued us. 

All in all, we returned to Guatemala City content with our adventures and largely unscathed, (minus Naomi’s pinky toe). What a week!

– Leah Beachey 

This past week, Nate, Mana, and I (Joshua) had the opportunity to travel to Belize for our week of free travel. Belize is, quite simply, an entirely different culture, despite just recently having been a part of Guatemala. While there, we got to experience what is known as “Garífuna” culture, characterized by intensely syncopated music, a different style of food, and a grand mixture of languages – English, Creole, and Spanish.
In between snorkeling with nurse sharks,
meeting Dutch people,

Mana, Nate, and Joshua at Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve, Belize

 hiking up mountains, and swimming in waterfalls, we were able to get to know this culture a little better. I had a conversation on a bus with a local man about the immigration situation in Belize – it is far different from the situation in Guatemala. The citizens of Belize easily obtain visas and come to work in the US, frequently returning home to build houses and support their families. Questions have been raised recently about the purpose of travel. For me, this is the purpose of travel – to come to know and understand the many different people of the world and their situations – because that is something that the world is often sorely lacking.

– Joshua Stucky 



Guatemala: Education

10 March 2024

Education – Investing in the future

Two weeks ago our group focused on education in Guatemala. We listened to a presentation and got a tour at Casa Horeb about the school program they run called EduVida. They offer free classes for people of all ages who are looking to further their education as they see their studies as something to help them become someone. Part of EduVida’s work is to empower their students by acknowledging all that they already have to offer the world while also teaching them technological skills through computers and online platforms that will equip them to work and contribute in a way that modern society demands. Some of the struggles EduVida faces is maintaining a sustainable team of volunteer

Photo: Elaine Zook Barge

teachers and supporting dropout students who can’t afford to make ends meet while working a job, supporting a family & investing in their future through school. While holding all of these obstacles, there are many signs of hope amidst the work that EduVida is doing. One that has stuck with me is a volunteer teacher in his 70s who teaches online classes while also battling cancer. His persistence and investment in his community is something that will have lasting effects for the next generations. 

We also visited Escuela Oficial Urbana Mixta where 300 children attend school every day. They offer morning classes held by 12 teachers and afternoon classes held by 10 teachers. In Guatemala, the government spends $809 per student yearly as opposed to $16,000 per student in the US. This leaves teachers with a limited budget to supply the classroom and also leaves classes with an average size of 40-60 kids. For many students, school is the last time to be a kid and most don’t even move past 6th grade, as it is not required. This specific school is making an effort to support their families. They offer night, weekend, and even radio classes to students who cannot come to school during the day. They are also intentional about reaching out to families who have kids at risk of joining gangs. Doing intentional work like this is really hard to do with minimal support and aid from the government. But this school is one of the many signs of resilience throughout Guatemala where people choose to lean on one another and support their communities in the ways they can. 

Visiting these places of learning motivated me to think of the way education is viewed here in Guatemala. Something EduVida emphasized was the way students view education as a luxury. Things must fall into place for their families to be able to experience this luxury. If their parent needs help working the family business during the day, then that comes first. If one parent has left for the US and there are kids that need to be looked after, then that means holding off on basic education to support the family. This reality comes in many forms for families in Guatemala.

Photo: Ella Brubaker

I can’t help but think of the ways generational trauma is impacting the opportunities kids and even adults have to invest in their education. I dream of the ways that this reality is shifting little by little because of organizations like these. I acknowledge the contrast in experiences between people in the US, recognizing all the corruptness of our US influence that has led Guatemalans to this point. And I question the ways we can aspire to be change agents to provide the education that everybody deserves. As university students, we continue to ask these questions and to learn about the journeys that are much different from our own.

Hollyn Miller


Guatemala: Human Rights

Legacy of the armed conflict

This week (February 18-23)  we focused on human rights and learned about Bishop Gerardi. He was a significant person in Guatemala who focused on uncovering the human rights violations committed by the military upon the indigenous community in the 1960s. We watched a documentary about the murder of Monsignor Gerardi that was called, “The Art of Political Murder.” The documentary discussed the massive impact many people faced when Gerardi died in 1998, as well as the impunity and lack of fear

Bishop Gerardi – Foto: Prensa Libre Guatemala

of repercussions the military displayed. Gerardi was a person who provided a voice to many people who were not allowed to speak about their pain and what happened to their community. During the years of civil war (1960–1996) the military was displacing, brutally murdering, and trying to wipe out the indigenous communities. Their stated intentions were to eradicate the enemy known as the “Guerillas”, however, Gerardi devoted himself to publicizing the truth and the true intentions of the massacres. A statistical fact that astonished me was that the military caused 93% of the war’s atrocities, while the guerillas only caused 3% and the last 4% remaining was unknown. It spoke volumes about how much destruction and trauma the military caused and that many people still face today. 

The next day we went to Monsignor Gerardis’ office and talked to one of the team members. We asked if they still face the danger of working with human rights. She discussed how two weeks ago they were robbed and their computers were the only things that were stolen. They believed it was politically motivated and that the thieves were somehow related to the military. Even today there is the governmental threat of hiding secrets of violations that happened. 

Overall this week was full of overwhelming information on how much damage the military did, and how there are communities still affected by it to this day.

Marie Isabella Spaulding 


Guatemala: Tikal y Cobán Reflexión

23 February 2024

Our most recent trip took us north. We spent a full seven days split between the northern rainforests of Tikal and the high-altitude city of Cobán in Alta Vera Paz. The theme for the week was Nature & Environment, so we visited the ancient Mayan Ruins in Tikal National Park and lived with an organization called Community Cloud Forest Conservation for a few days as well. 

Photo: Mana Acosta

The Tikal visit was incredible- it is humbling to look upwards at stone structures that were built 1.5 thousand years ago, more or less, and not know much about the society that built them. In the US we tear down large buildings about every 100-150 years, and our houses only after about 50-70 years! I was glad to hear that the park gets many visitors each year because the ancient Mayan culture is an important history to continue sharing, especially as the modern indigenous culture continues to change and grow in this country. On the flip side, tourism from the park requires hotels and roads with carbon emissions and noise that continue to divide the Petén rainforest into smaller and smaller chunks. Sigh… there are many paradoxes in this country. Our tour guide was a wealth of knowledge and he spoke English the entire tour which was something that he learned during the Pandemic. The English language is a very helpful tool in the Guatemalan workforce and is increasingly more valuable for employment within the tourism sector.

The most memorable part of the trip for me was our time in the mountains outside of Cobán. We spent a full 3 days living at CCFC, an organization that focuses on sustainable living through a variety of outlets. Their WALC program educates Indigenous women about sustainable practices which they bring back to their villages, and at the same time promotes leadership through teaching and program management. The lodge also hosts elementary schoolers throughout the entire

Community Cloud Forest Conservation Photo: Mana Acosta

Cobán region for 3-4 days as a form of outdoor education and advocacy. The entire establishment harnesses energy from hydroelectric and solar energy sources. The surrounding land also provides a large portion of their food so that there are days on end when no one needs to drive into town. This aspect of their program was pretty impressive at such a large scale! A really cool part of our stay was getting assigned compañeras, women from the surrounding villages, around our age, who were teachers in the WALC program. It was fun to make connections through a language that for most of us was not our first (most of the womens’ first language was not Spanish, but a language from their villages like Q’eqchi and Quiché). Much of what I learned from that trip came from my new friend, Sara. 🙂

The big question that we brushed up against was what to do about the ominous climate crisis. The CCFC is an incredible example of action and advocacy and we were reminded once again of our own ability to create change. How could action and advocacy translate into our own lives as college students in Harrisonburg and beyond? This is always a daunting question. There were points of despair, and also doubts in the permanency of our inspired ideas. Change takes time and work. It can seem like an uphill battle to change a lifestyle, and guilt can appear when we feel like we aren’t doing enough. 

A comment from someone in the group added a new perspective: What if the things that we “add” to our lives are actually moments for mental health and rest? What if our tiny steps in climate action provide moments of solitude or connection with our environment? The quietness of hanging clothes on the line. The rhythm that comes with digging a row of holes for seeds. The breaths of fresh air that accompany your walk to work. These actions in our lives do require a little more time from our packed days, but they can also provide necessary moments of respite and solitude that feed our souls, not drain them. 

So, that is a question that I continue to mull over. Climate action and advocacy looks different for everyone, and each person knows their limits. But perhaps looking at the way forward through this mental health lens could provide a healthier plan and brighter outlook for our engagement in this. I hope to continue thinking and talking about these possibilities! 

And now, on to the next week.

– Naomi Kratzer




Guatemala: Threads of Connection

9 February 2024

As part of our intercultural experience, we are taking Spanish classes for about four hours every morning through CASAS, or Central America Study and Service cultural immersion program. We are in small groups and paired up with a teacher. So far, we have learned through cooking, singing Guatemalan songs, acting out skits, reading Central American literature, and even a trip to the zoo, of course in addition to traditional classroom learning. I like the immersive atmosphere of learning in this way, but I also deeply appreciate how we are in classes small enough that we can ask our teachers questions about life in Guatemala and get real answers.

The more we study Spanish, the more I, an English Education major, come to appreciate English and the study of language. Let me explain.

My whole life I have loved language. I love writing, reading, and communicating my point clearly. I love to read a well-written book, compose a perfectly flowing essay, or eloquently tell others what I want them to know. I appreciate language. I started appreciating language more when I took Introduction to Linguistics (shoutout Wendell Shank) last spring. It was a wonderful class that taught me the importance of parts of speech and just how differently languages communicate the same idea. Being in Guatemala has only grown that appreciation more. For example, I love that the sentence in Spanish “yo se quiero darle” doesn’t translate perfectly to English. If we translated it word for word, we would hear: “I you want to give it.” The idea is the same — “I want to give it to you” — but we can’t say it exactly the same way in both languages. I think that is fascinating. In English, you just follow right along with the idea from point A to point B. In Spanish you almost have to listen to the whole sentence before you can fully understand what the person is trying to say. If you’re not getting the whole sentence, you’re grasping at straws (words) trying to figure out what is going on.

Continue reading


Guatemala: Everyone Is Affected by Migration

5 February 2024

Last Saturday through Wednesday, our group had the opportunity to visit Huehuetenango and Jacaltenango, both located in the Western highlands of Guatemala. The five to six-hour drive to Huehuetenango was rough for those who get carsick easily, but beautiful as we observed tree-laden mountains and stunning volcanoes along the way. In Huehuetenango, we stopped to visit the archeological site Zaculeu, which had ancient Mayan temples we

Zaculeu  Photo – N. Kratzer

could climb. Unfortunately, the original temples were covered in concrete, turning them into a playground for tourists. The beauty of the original structures will now always be hidden under a “modern” shell. I wonder what other historical and cultural sites have been “fixed” to accommodate tourist interest. After lunch, we drove about four more hours to Jacaltenango, a beautiful area full of trees and with small streets that our bus struggled to fit in. While we were in Jacaltenango, we visited Rio Azul, swam in a pool, and ate street food at the Féria there.

I think that for many, the beginning of the trip represented a break from the full schedule of classes and a chance to explore more of Guatemala. However, the overall purpose of the trip was much more important than seeing more breathtaking scenery. On Monday we visited Pop No’j, an organization that empowers Mayan

Group at Rio Azul Photo – CASAS

communities by encouraging their participation in advocating for their rights and accompanying them in their journey to have a better life. They also walk alongside children and adolescents who have been deported or returned voluntarily from the United States. To start our activities with them, they invited us to participate in a Mayan practice, where six candles of different colors are lit to recognize the energy that the day carries.

Mayan ceremonial candles  Photo – M. Beidler

After learning about their various programs, we met with Robby and Ari, a family they have worked with. Robby is a twelve-year-old boy who migrated to the United States with his mom but had to take care of himself there, because his mom had to work. Because of this lack of support, he along with an older cousin, journeyed back to Guatemala together. His older sister, Ari, who is now his guardian, shared that he had a lot of trauma when he returned. When asked about the migration process, she said that the migration journey is not worth it because it affects everyone and only creates more trauma for families. She believes that there needs to be more investment in communities here, because otherwise, people will continue migrating for any possible chance of a better life. I am grateful for the family’s willingness to share, and I think it was an important reminder of the impact migration has on kids and young adults. We have to remember that they are one story of many and that many children do not have support from organizations like Pop No’j or family members once they return. 

The next day we were going to visit one of the borders between Guatemala and Mexico. However, because narcotraffickers had taken over the highway it was recommended that we not go. Our group was privileged to have connections that warned us of the narco takeover, but many migrants do not have that opportunity. Regardless, many people in transit would continue even if there was danger to their safety or a huge risk of extortion and physical violence. While we were leaving Jacaltenango, our bus was stopped by the police to check our driver’s papers. We learned that police routinely stop bigger vehicles, because they are checking for any migrants who might be aboard. I cannot imagine the fear that people must face every time a bus they are on is stopped. If they are caught, they will be returned to the country they left.  Continue reading


Guatemala: City of Contrasts

21 January 2024

La Terminal

On Wednesday, January 19 our

La Terminal Market street – Photo: E. Ours

Guatemala-Cuba Intercultural group had the opportunity to visit a place called “La Terminal,” a market in Guatemala City. There
ply are not words to describe the poverty we saw there. I have seen and interacted with poverty in the US in both rural and urban settings, and it simply does not come close to what we saw in La Terminal. Everything everywhere reeked of garbage and gasoline. Fruits, vegetables,

Flower market, La Terminal Photo: S. Armato

and worse rotted in the streets. There were families of eight to twelve living in spaces that seemed smaller than a dorm room. These people, these human beings with hopes and dreams and dignity must pay 10 Quetzal (roughly $1.30) to shower and 2Q to use the toilet. 10Q is nearly 10% of the minimum wage here in Guatemala and roughly 50% of the average daily wages of those who are self-employed or living in rural areas.



The next day,   Thursday, January 20, we went to a place called Cayalá. Cayalá is owned by one family and sits on roughly 350 acres of previously forested land. The streets are cobblestone, the buildings white with clean terracotta roofs, and there is no trash in sight. The bathrooms are fancy – and free. If you dropped me in La Terminal, and then dropped me in Cayalá, never in a million years would I guess that they are just over 3 miles apart. 3 miles! That is all that separates some of the richest in this country from some of the poorest. The paradox of Cayalá, the gross irony, is that “cayalá” means “paradise” in an indigenous Mayan language spoken by people who certainly do not live there. The wealth, the amount of space taken up, and the inherent arrogance it takes for those living there to simply ignore the poverty sitting at their feet was nauseating.

Perhaps even more nauseating is how close to home this situation is. We all know the parts of town we want to avoid, the ones we aspire to live in. We all sit at the intersection with the window up, pretending not to see the person begging. We all, all too often, choose ignorance and judgment over acceptance and curiosity. If we want to live into the life that Christ calls us to, that Mennonite values prescribe, and that our humanity demands, we must do something to combat the gross inequalities in the world. And so my question going out of these experiences was this: how do we reconcile the way we live with the way those in La Terminal live, and how do we change how we live going out of that experience?

First, I must say that to not change anything about the way you live after such an experience is to kill your humanity. Second, there are so many things we can change about the way we live after an experience like that, but it will look different for everyone. We must change the way we live in a way that is humbling and beneficial to those from whose poverty many of us benefit. Here are some ideas our group came up with:

  • Waste no food. Clear the plate or save the leftovers.
  • Hang-dry clothes.
  • Live below your means and donate as much as you can. Consumerism perpetuates inequality.
  • Think twice before judging people, especially based on socioeconomic status. Curiosity is a much better choice.
  • Tell others about the experience. To learn someone’s story and tell no one is to silence them.

This is a short, infant list, but it’s a start. And a start is far better than the sacrifice of our humanity.

-Joshua Stucky



Europe: Service projects


Service Projects in Vienna

During our stay in Vienna, we were each assigned a service project to go to. This took place about every other week for a couple of hours at a time. I was assigned a position at an elementary school along with three of my peers. On each visit we were expected to prepare and carry out activities for fourth graders. As an elementary education major, this service project was a really exciting opportunity for me. Before each visit, I and the other three students would meet to prepare art projects, games, and music to do with the children, and send our plan to the supervising teacher to have it approved. On the day of our visits, we would do what we had planned with the classes which was always a super fun time! For one project we did with the class we had the students cut out their hand prints, decorate them, and put them up to create a tree.

Another time we made the tallest towers possible using just spaghetti and marshmallows. The class also loved playing games such as Hangman, Pictionary, and Simon Says. The students did not have much experience with English yet, so our time with them gave them practice. It was also more fun for them than their typical English lessons! This time also helped me learn a few more words in German and learn more about Viennese culture and their school system. Being able to spend some time in a classroom while studying abroad was a super beneficial experience for me. I was able to get some practice with teaching while also learning so much. I also was able to have a super fun time playing games, doing projects, and singing and dancing with an awesome class of fourth-grade students!

-Daphne Kropf

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Europe: Disneyland Paris

6 Dec. 2023

In Paris, we squeezed in a bunch of museums and sights, but my favorite thing was a trip to Disneyland. As we could only spend a day there, a careful plan was crafted to make the most of it. We hit all the major rides and enjoyed lunch at Captain Jack’s, a themed pirate restaurant. My favorite ride was Hyperspace Mountain, a speedy Star Wars ride. For dinner, we ate at Annette’s Diner— a place that transports you to the 80s. The waiters broke out into dance with the kids and there happened to be two birthday celebrations! A couple of us had holes in our left shoes which was unfortunate because it rained all day. Even so, it was a magical experience.
-Lydia Longacre
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Europe: Terezín


During our stay in Prague, the group visited Terezín, which was a fortress turned extermination camp during the Nazi Regime. We started off by seeing the museums on the property that had things like artwork from the children, music and poetry that had been written, and other products of having the Jewish people be forced there. One thing that really surprised me was the propaganda that was put out to portray Terezín as a cute small town. After seeing the propaganda, we walked into the extermination camps to the reality of living there. It was heartbreaking. We spent several weeks in Austria learning about Jewish treatment, but being in the actual place where many of these terrible acts occurred was a much more touching experience. The beds they slept on, the bathrooms they used, seeing the small portions of food, and the places they were given to eat. As a group of 23, we were walking into rooms and complaining about being cramped, but then the tour guide explained that 3-4 times our amount of people would have been in this room at one time. One story that the tour guide shared was about the famine and diseases that would cause death. When a prisoner would die in their sleep, others would try to hide the body from the guards, so they could have the rations that person was supposed to have because they were so hungry. We also walked around the execution grounds where hundreds of people lost their lives to no fault of their own. It was an experience that I will keep with me for the rest of my life. Being in the actual places, hearing more personal stories, seeing the artwork of people who didn’t get to grow up and share their work, seeing the way the children and adults were expressing their feelings in music, art, writing, and any other way they could was very touching. It was hard to tell at times if they had any idea of the horrors that were happening all around them, or if they were choosing to not believe it as a way to cope.

This experience brought an entirely new understanding and emotion towards the holocaust. It made it seem more recent and showed the devastating facts on an entirely new level. I think it’s hard to understand the magnitude of what these people did and went through, but being there brought our group a little closer to understanding the horrible effects of the Nazi party.

-Gracie Conner

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