Category Archives: Europe 2019

Europe: A final thought

I haven’t really been able to process everything I’ve just seen and experienced and done over the past three and a half months, and I think it is going to take me some time to do so. I’ve learned so many things. But one thing that sticks out to me as of this moment that I feel is important to mention, is that if anything, I’ve learned how much I don’t know. This cross-cultural experience has taught me that I have so much to learn and so much more growing to do. I think

before coming on this trip I knew there were other cultures, religions, opinions, and ideas than my own but it wasn’t until now that I recognized and understood that.

I’ve been learning about other cultures and religions to understand. Why do practicing Muslims perform ritualistic prayers five times a day? What does it mean to them? Why do those living in the Czech Republic cling to the theatre to help them communicate about politics and their government? What does that say about their history? Why are there so many extravagant churches in Central Europe built to glorify God? What does that say about Catholicism and religious influence? My mind has expanded to understand how truly big our world is. I’ve gained more skills in collaborating with others, and I’m more ready than ever to continue traveling and learning about other cultures to understand. To listen. It pushes me to evaluate my own values and beliefs and why I think the way that I do. And I think a step forward would be for us to continue learning to understand, so that we can better work together. We need to do that now more than ever.

-Anna Smith

On the Mönchsberg with the city of Salzburg behind us

Europe: Immigration in Austria

24 October 2019*

On September 27th, I had the privilege of playing soccer alongside refugees in a tournament that was part of “Langer Tag der Flucht” (long day of the escape), a full day event devoted to the stories of refugees in Vienna, Austria.  As I was enjoying the sport I love and practicing my amateur German, I had to face a difficult truth:  all but one of my teammates are going to be sent back to the country they fled from in one week. Their applications for asylum were rejected.

For the past seven weeks I have been living in Vienna as part of the Europe and Morocco Cross-Cultural.  While I am here I am volunteering with Caritas, a Non-Government Organization (NGO) with roots in the Catholic Church.  Part of Caritas’ mission is refugee aid, and I was fortunate to spend every Monday working alongside staff at Haus Erdberg, a refugee complex housing around 250 refugees.

The residents here are either single men or families, and they come from all different walks of life.  I helped with organizing the line for their weekly allowance, and shadowed staff as they replaced residents’ light bulbs, furniture and bedding etc..

Immigration is one of Austria’s most pressing and controversial issues.  In 2015, there was a surge of migrants from the Middle East, flowing into many European countries, including Austria. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel’s main slogan regarding migration at the time was “wir schaffen das”, or “we can do it”, and as a result, between 2015 and 2016, one million migrants entered Europe through the gateway of Austria, an eighth of the nation’s population.  Only around 100,000 immigrants stayed in Austria; the remainder migrated to other European countries or went overseas.  The influx of immigration has since decreased since 2015, but migration statistics show that it could be on the rise again.

For the average refugee coming to Vienna, the journey to safety and freedom is a long and grueling one.  People coming to Vienna must apply for asylum upon entry.  Those seeking asylum must live in a refugee center, where they cannot work or travel, until they are notified about that status of their application.  This waiting period can be as short as six months, although it is on average around 16 months, according to the Austrian Ministry of Domestic Affairs.  Those seeking asylum at Haus Erdberg wait three years on average.

Through volunteering at Caritas, I saw Vienna through a different lens.  The building is not an old beautiful Catholic cathedral, nor is it a world-class performance venue. There are around 250 residents in the center, all of whom are waiting to see if they will be invited in, or if they will be sent back to their home country from whence they fled.  While they are at the center, these asylum seekers must learn German, so that if they are granted asylum and are allowed to work, they are able to find a job.  Most jobs in Austria require at least a B2 German level, which is attainable through an exam, which tests reading, writing, speaking, and listening in German.  Even after asylum is granted, there are still a lot of obstacles.  For example, a refugee’s education is not always recognized by the authorities, thus making their resume unattractive to employers.

Despite these challenges, there are ways for refugees to integrate into Austrian society.  As a group, we got the opportunity to visit and tour the Magdas Hotel, a social organization specifically employing refugees to work as receptionists, chefs, and other positions.  As a whole, the Magdas (meaning “like that” in German) employees represent 14 different nations and 23 languages.  As a refugee, this job is an excellent way to get a foot in the working world and gain experiences that can lead to a steady job in Austria.

My father was a refugee.  He fled Vietnam in 1981 and came to the US speaking little to no English with virtually no money on him.  He was fortunate to have missionaries sponsor him in Florida.  Without them he could not have found a home in this country, and he would not have met my mom (an EMU alum), and my brothers and I would not exist.  I acknowledge that immigration is a complex issue, however, Austria is endearing to me not in spite of its refugees, but because of them, and the gifts they bring to the nation. I want refugees to be seen as human, just as my dad was, and I want others to experience the Vienna I have loved during my time here.

My time in this country has been extremely positive.  Vienna city life is exciting and addicting. It has a beautiful café culture, an incredibly efficient public transportation system, one of the world’s best theater scenes, and is visually stunning at every corner.  Learning about the politics and issues here does not make me like this place less, it makes me care about it more.

After reading EMU’s Common Read Exit West [Mohsin Hamid] this summer, I have resonated with it immensely while learning about European history during my time abroad.  One line continues to stick out for me: “We are all migrants of time.”

-Avery Trinh

*This article originally published by The WeatherVane  Nov. 7, 2019

On the Mönchsberg with the city of Salzburg behind us

Europe: insights to the Holocaust

4 November 2019

When we started learning about the Holocaust in Europe, specifically in Vienna, I felt like being American, being so far removed from these tragedies, had made it difficult to understand them until I was there in the countries where they took place.  It impacted me greatly to be standing in the plaza where Adolf Hitler gave speeches to cheering crowds or at the hotel he stayed in.  On Thursday, we visited Terezin, a former military fortress that following Nazi occupation of [Czechoslovakia] during World War II was turned into a Jewish ghetto and concentration camp.  After that experience, I think that being from across an ocean was not the only thing stopping me from really understanding the Holocaust.  You could be from the Czech Republic, or Austria, or even Germany, but it’s not until you stand in the dark empty cells that held so many people they were forced to sleep standing up, that the gravity and the terrifying reality of the Holocaust really sinks in.

While Terezin was operating as a concentration camp and ghetto, it took on more than 150,000 Jewish prisoners.  Of these 150,000 people, over 33,000 died because of the conditions such as hypothermia, starvation, untreated health problems, and physical abuse.  Eighty-eight thousand were sent on to Auschwitz or other death camps to be killed.  Even though it wasn’t labeled an extermination camp, there were only 17,247 survivors of Terezin by the end of WW II.

I could talk about the awful stories of torture and abuse from inside the concentration camp, but what affected me the most was the children’s memorial in the accompanying museum.  15,000 children spent time in Terezin, living life as best they could amid the most unimaginable conditions.  For children, this means drawing.  In the museum were displayed hundreds of drawings found after WW II made by the children.  They ranged from idyllic family pictures and drawings of home, to conditions in the ghetto, even to depictions of the abuses they and their parents were suffering at the hands of the guards.  And under each one, there was a name and either the word survived or a death date with the camp they were killed at.  On the walls of the display were printed the names of every child killed from Terezin, most under the age of 13.

Only 130 children out of 13,000 made it out of Terezin alive, a 1% survival rate.  It is hard for me to process the dehumanization that must happen for a grown adult to look a child in the eyes and throw away their life.  I can’t help but think about how this process starts, what the seed of distaste looks like that eventually grows into hatred so strong it blinds you to humanity.

The root cause of travesties like the Holocaust is elusive.  Maybe it is complacency, people doing what they’re told to avoid rocking the boat.  Maybe it is fear of the unknown and deciding it is safer to eliminate differences rather than try to get to know them.  Maybe all it takes is a charismatic leader whose promises of a greater tomorrow are just promising enough to give desperate people enough hope they’ll do anything to get there. Whatever it is, it is worth acknowledging that the potential for hatred is inside all of us.  While I desperately hope this hatred will never again take on a form like Holocaust, the instinct to exclude, isolate, and dehumanize people different from us is volatile if gone unchecked.  And, maybe you don’t have to go to a concentration camp to realize that, but it makes it a lot more obvious.

-Kate Stutzman

On the Mönchsberg with the city of Salzburg behind us

Europe: Budapest

14 October 2019

One huge difference between Europe and North America is that you can take a three-hour train ride to get to another country and never have your passport checked! Thursday morning, our group met at Hauptbahnhof and took a train to Budapest, Hungary. During our three full days in a new city, we had various tours, a theater performance, and free time. We stayed as a group at the Maverick hostel in the city center. The hostel used to be a Hapsburg mansion and had many royal aspects to the building. This was my first hostel experience, and it reminded me of a combination of a camp set up mixed with a hotel room.

For those that don’t know, Budapest is split into two sides by the Danube River. You have the “Buda” side, which is quieter and has less tourist attractions. The “Pest” side is lively and could keep you busy for days. We had a tour of each side, which included Castle Hill, the Parliament building, old bath houses, Hero’s Square, and Central Market Hall.

There were a few differences between what we were used to in Vienna and what we had to quickly adjust to in Budapest. Hungarian currency is called Forints and has very little value. The average price of a meal was 3000 Forints. If I’m being honest, I had no idea how much I was paying for anything for most of our stay in the city. Another huge difference is language. In Vienna, we take German classes so we are becoming pretty familiar with the language. Hungarian is completely different. I had no idea how to even begin to sound out Hungarian words, so it was a relief that most people spoke English.

On Saturday, we were given the day to explore. I’m more of a solo traveler so I went off on my own adventure on the “Pest” side of the city. I went back to Central Market Hall to get delicious Hungarian food, flavorful and savory. They are most known for goulash and Lángos. Goulash is a savory stew and Lángos is deep fried dough in which they dump toppings on top.  Both dishes were unlike anything I’d eaten before, both tasty.

The main part of my day was spent at a museum called House of Terror, or Terror Háza in Hungarian. On their website, it includes this introduction: “Having survived two terror regimes, it was felt that the time had come for Hungary to erect a fitting memorial to the victims, and at the same time to present a picture of what life was like for Hungarians in those times.” In 1956, there was an uprising against the Cold War and the Soviet presence in Hungary. The Soviet Union responded with a military invasion, resulting in thousands of Hungarians fleeing their homeland. There was a Soviet presence in Hungary until 1991, when the last Soviet troops withdrew from the country. Hungary only joined NATO in May of 1999 and the European Union in 2004. Hungary has had a difficult history, one that has reached freedom much more recently than the United States.

One amazing part to this cross-cultural is all the comparisons we get to experience. We travel to so many cities in different countries and learn the history of that area. We witness theater, paintings, music, sculptures, memorials, and more that illustrate what life used to be in some places, what life is in others, and what life could be if we do not learn from the past. Just three days in one city has opened my eyes to how recent bad history is and the reality that things c an change in the world rather quickly.

-Mary Harnish

#EMUeuropetogether #EMUview

On the Mönchsberg with the city of Salzburg behind us

Europe: we are the same, can we see?

11 October 2019

Anna and Alexa with their host mom, Doris

I had no idea how living with a complete stranger for two months was going to go. I knew she was a retired teacher, had a daughter, and didn’t have any pets. That was it. The night we arrived in Vienna we all went to a restaurant for dinner and then waited for our hosts to pick us up and take us home. I was so nervous. Now, almost two months later, I look back at this memory and smile. I never could have dreamed of a better host mom to spend my time here in Vienna with. She is very adventurous and so kind. She goes out of her way to provide us, always giving 110%. It is inspiring to me how welcoming she has been and taken us in like we were her own family. When I return home, I will feel so grateful knowing I have this special connection across the world forever. Like she said at the breakfast table this morning, “You and I, we are from different places and yet we have no problems. We know that actually we are the same (just human).”

-Anna Smith

12 October 2019

Friday was a lot. We did a tour of District One’s Jewish History. We learned about a man who survived a concentration camp and dedicated the rest of his life to aiding the government in hunting down Nazis, beginning with those who had been his personal torturers. We learned about a woman, Irene Harand, who was a human rights activist and fought against antisemitism. She wrote a book entitled “Sein Kampf” which translates to “His Fight” where she tears apart Hitler’s cruel and false ideals. An article I read about her labeled her as “a thorn in the side of the Austrian Nazi party.” Ms. Harand, after spending five years in Europe directly fighting against Hitler, immigrated to the United States and was able to rescue 100 Jews from Europe attempting to flee persecution .

I am trying my hardest not to push politics in this post, but I know it will come out. Despite that, I hope you can see that it is with love that I write this. Something I have been thinking about since we took this tour is if I could do what this woman did. This Christian woman, who stood up against Hitler and the Nazi regime; who put herself and most likely her own loved ones at risk by not staying quiet, but firmly saying no; who brought people across oceans and borders to protect them. Could I, do I, exhibit this kind of radical love?

In high school, I did a project on the Rohingya genocide in Burma/Myanmar. Much of today’s talk about genocide is in regards to the past, but there are genocides that have occurred within the last ten years, there are genocides that are happening right now. All around the world there are people being persecuted and murdered for their skin color, for their beliefs, for the way they choose to live their lives, for simply existing, and we’re still talking about genocide like it isn’t right in front of us. I’M still talking about genocide like it isn’t happening right in front of ME. We can give different reasons for why we aren’t talking about it: that it’s a myth, that it isn’t our responsibility, that they did something wrong and so they deserve it, that it doesn’t affect you and me so it doesn’t matter. But those are excuses.

I watched a documentary last year about Michael J. Sharp, an EMU alumnus working as a Peacemaker in Congo with the UN. In 2017 he and his colleague were murdered during a mission in Congo. One of the lines his father spoke in the documentary has stuck with me ever since. Michael Sharp never cared about the dangers he had to face because “maybe if a white person died the rest of the world would finally see.” The reality of current genocides is that no one is killing white people, but if they were, the rest of the world would see. The rest of the world would hear MY cries. The rest of the world would step in. Why are we, after all these years, still not seeing them?

-Haley Williams

On the Mönchsberg with the city of Salzburg behind us

Europe: Taking the opportunity

9 October 2019

I spent the fall semester of 2018 in DC with the Washington Community Scholars’ Program. I have the privilege of spending this semester in Europe studying art and theater. Theater is one thing that my two cross-culturals have in common. While I was in DC I worked as the production intern at Mosaic Theater Company. In Europe we are seeing theater and opera performances regularly, often multiple times a week. Now that we have settled a bit in Vienna, I have been thinking about how my experiences in Europe compare with my experience in DC last fall. 

One difference between my semester in DC and my experience in Europe so far is the number of places we visit. We will visit and live in at least ten different cities across Europe and northern Africa this semester. In DC, on the other hand, I was in the same house with the same people for the whole semester. Because I wasn’t traveling around so much in DC, you really get the experience of living there. Having an internship in the city and going in to “work” every day contributed to the feeling of living in DC and not just visiting. Because we don’t get the chance to truly settle anywhere in Europe, we are going to be tourists in every city we visit despite how much we try not to be. Even in Vienna, where we are staying the longest, we aren’t going to experience truly living here the way I did in DC. 

Johnny and Amber on a boat ride across King’s Lake

Another difference between my two cross-culturals is the way I viewed and approached experiencing new things. In Europe, the general consensus among the group has been “we are in another country, so we should take every opportunity possible to do something new and fun!” People are constantly eating at new restaurants, exploring cool places in the city, and finding interesting theater shows to go to. In DC, however, we had a very different approach. Even though living in DC felt just as foreign at the beginning as living in another country, no one felt the pressure to do things and try new things the way we have in Europe. People occasionally went out in the evenings, but most nights we stayed home and played games. This semester, we all know that we may never have the opportunity to travel to Europe again so we want to take advantage of as many opportunities as we can. The same just wasn’t true about DC. The knowledge that DC was nearby and easily accessible from EMU probably influenced our attitude without us even realizing. 

Although in DC I did not take advantage of all the things the city had to offer, I wouldn’t trade my semester there for anything. There is one thing I especially miss about my semester in DC. I miss the closeness that comes from living together for a semester. In DC, we cooked and ate dinner together practically every night. We hung out and played games together regularly. And even when there wasn’t a group activity happening in the house, there were always people in the house I could talk to or hang out with. Here in Vienna, we are staying with host families in various locations throughout the city. Even though we spend the day together, we are missing out on the bond that is developed in a group when living and eating together regularly. In Europe we are missing out on that because we all live spread out across the city. The house in DC was a “homebase” for us, a common area where we could always find someone to talk to or play a game with or just relax with. I miss having that central “homebase” where you can always count on hanging out and doing something relaxing with your friends. 

It’s fascinating to me how different my two cross-culturals have been so far. I am excited to experience more things here in Europe I am interested in comparing the two semesters in full once I am back home and have had time to process everything I’ve experienced and have yet to experience. 

-Amber Hooper

On the Mönchsberg with the city of Salzburg behind us

Europe: Salzburg and Vienna

Highlights of Salzburg:

  • Walking through old-town Salzburg
  • Visiting stunning baroque churches like the University Church and the Salzburg Cathedral
  • Hiking up Mönchsberg to visit Salzburg fortress
  • Taking a cable car up the Untersberg and hiking to the top
  • Day-trip to Bavaria, where we took a boat to King’s Lake and visited salt mines\
  • Visited Grossglockner, the highest mountain in Austria

#EMUeuropetogether #EMUview


On the Mönchsberg with the city of Salzburg behind us