EMU Intercultural Learning

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

Capetown: Week 3 in South Africa

After 3 long days in the bus, including a 2.5 hour-long delay due to engine issues, we rolled into Capetown. As an exhausted and grateful bunch, we unpacked the bus, dragging our suitcases up 3 flights of stairs to our new home for the next 10 days. Many of us feel refreshed with the beach view from the back deck – a nice place to escape when we get tired of being in the same room (all 11 young women are sleeping in one room, and the 4 young men are in another). We share a common space and kitchen with other travellers and surfers from around the world.

In Capetown and with day trips to surrounding areas, we are learning about the colonial history of South Africa. Capetown is home to the first settlement of Dutch settlers. We visited places like the Castle of Good Hope and Company Gardens to get a taste of the history of the first settlers. We also visited places like Robben Island to continue learning about the Apartheid era. While driving to and from these places, we continue to observe obvious racial and economic disparities between neighboring areas based on housing, employment, and population density. For release and recreation to take a break from the heavy stories of harm, many of us participated in hiking, surfing, swimming, and napping. Below, several of us have answered a question reflecting on a meaningful experiences we had in the past week. At the end, we also included some brief responses to the 4 questions that have been guiding our group reflections. We as the Communications Team for the week wanted many people to contribute to the conversation. We hope you enjoy and learn from our reflections. Please feel free to add comments and questions to the response box.

  1. What was your experience with surfing and the beach we are living next to? (Addison)

The beach that we are currently living next to is absolutely beautiful. We have gotten to experience what life is like when you live by the ocean, and one everyday activity that many locals partake in is surfing. In my own personal experience, surfing was an incredible opportunity. For a lot of us, it was our first time surfing, and while it was a very grueling task, we all were able to stand up at least once! Many of us are definitely planning to surf again while we are here or when we get to our next destination.

  1. How have you experienced the change in food? What has been your favorite meal so far? (Olyvia)

The food here is amazing. Almost everything we have tried, we have enjoyed. The food can be spicier than what we are used to, such as the chakalaka, which is a yummy side consisting of vegetables and beans. Another food that is a staple here are pap, a corn based starch that is eaten at almost every meal. Some of my favorite foods here have been the braai (meat cookout), cake with custard, actually anything with custard and amagwena (fat cakes).

  1. What were some of your thoughts and reflections as you hiked Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point? (Aaron Z)

Cape Point was an amazing experience. If you want to truly experience the beauty and awe inspiring creation of God, visit Cape Point. Every new ridge you could see over gave you a whole new view. It felt like such a huge space, but at the same time we were at a very small point in South Africa. This really was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and I wish I was able to show everyone it’s true beauty.

  1. Reflect on your experience at Boulder’s Beach. (Lukas)

Walking on to Boulder Beach reminded me of the Oregon coast but with warmer weather and penguins around each boulder. It was a great place to sit, relax, swim or explore and it provided a much needed rest after hiking for a majority of the morning. After hanging out at the beach for an hour or so, we walked on the boardwalk leading to gift stores, ice cream shops and street artist performers.

  1. Reflect on your experience at Robben Island. (JD)

We visited the infamous Robben Island. Robben Island was and still is a pivotal part of South Africa’s history. The prison housed regular criminals but mainly housed political activists who spoke against the South African Government. One prisoner by the name of Robert Sobukwe was kept in his own personal cell away from all the other prisoners because his ideology was highly feared. Robben Island was supposed to be a symbol of justice and peace but became the total opposite. My experience at Robben Island was not great. The Island brought up feelings of hate and fear. I constantly thought if I was alive at that time, I would most likely be a prisoner of this island. To me the Island still carries the same energy of hate and violence but at the same time is still building toward peace and reconciliation by offering a truthful story of what happened on the Island.

  1. Reflect on the morning Eucharist service at St. George’s Cathedral. (Maddie)

This service stood out to me in many ways. First of all, I was touched that we were welcomed even though the Cathedral was hosting a movie crew and set. We were not as warmly welcomed as we were in some of the churches from the past two weeks in Johannesburg, but nonetheless, we were thrilled to see the church through another lens. Growing up Catholic, I see a lot of similarities in the Eucharistic or Anglican service and the Catholic mass. The one thing that I adored about this service was that the priest was a colored woman. We would never see that in the Catholic church in the United States. The service was easy to follow and timely, as the other services we had attended were spirit-driven (the time of church was determined by the strength of the spirit that day). Overall, I am moved by the progression of the Anglican church and gender roles. I feel that gaining various spiritual views and experiences aids to the lens in which we see this country. These experiences also allow us to come to the understanding that no matter where we are in the world, we can all worship the same God and share the notion that he is alive!

  1. Reflect on your experience with hiking Table Mountain. (Rachel)

Hiking Table Mountain has been one of my favorite experiences so far. These past two weeks have required an immense amount of mental energy, so it was a nice change to exercise the physical body. As someone who often processes best during physical activity, it was a nice opportunity to reflect on some of the other learning experiences we have had thus far.

  1. How has your view on community struggle changed since hiking Table Mountain? (Alyssa)   Since hiking Table Mountain, community struggle has taken on a new image in my eyes. As we hiked, we encouraged, uplifted, and struggled with one another. We went up in three different groups, but all came to the realization that the hike would not have been possible without our community and sense of a mutual goal. This image has been illuminated countless times not only through the struggle of the hike, but has also taken place throughout every community we have learned about and/or experienced. Community is more than just a place; community is a people in unity as one working towards Ubuntu (“I am because we are.”Another way to say it is “A person is a person only through other people”). This concept has brought to light the fact that we are all one and that no matter the circumstances or struggles, we need each other.

  2. Compare and contrast your experience at Stellenbosch Motherchurch (Dutch Reformed) and Grace Community Church. (Holly)

Grace Community Church located in Colesberg is a passionate and lively black township church. Stellenbosch on the other hand is a Dutch Reformed in a former whites only town with European undertones. The similarity between these two churches is that they worship the same God and despite the vast differences, the spirit was able to move in both places.

On Sunday, May 19th we attended Grace Community Church. Immediately upon arrival we were greeted with smiles, hugs, and numerous welcomes. The building was one large room constructed with corrugated metal panels. The building was plain and simple but filled with loud, exuberant worship. During the service we were welcomed numerous times, danced, and were even invited to talk while Andrew was asked to give the sermon.

The next Sunday, the 26th, we attended The Dutch Reformed Church. Being a White, Stellenbosch was familiar even with the language barrier of Afrikaans. The building was conventional like what you would see in Europe. We sat in a pew, attentive to what the pastor had to say that day, sang songs with all of the same tunes that are found in the Mennonite Hymnal and yet there was still an eerie presence of discomfort. Apartheid history still looms over Stellenbosch as the theology and leaders of apartheid come out of the university and church there challenging my view of comfort.

A quote that has stuck with me throughout my time states, “We used to have the land and they had the Bibles. Now we have the Bibles and that have the land.” I find that this quote gets at the root of the differences between services.

Summary of responses from the whole group to 4 big questions that have guided our reflections:

What has been a high point?

Hiking Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope, and at lighthouses

Boulder beach

Growing together as a group and being unified through experiences and desire for change and justice

Laughter and conversations around meals

Feeling alive and grateful to be in South Africa

What has been a low point/challenge?

Seeing differences in socioeconomic status in neighboring places

Experiences at Robben Island

Challenged to ask what do I do with this information when I go back to the States

Questioning comfortability

Overworking on food committee (shout out to Maddie, Lukas, and Kayla)

Being sick throughout the week

What have you learned?

Apartheid is still a reality

How we can learn about the history of our hometowns?

Realizing passions and what makes me feel angry

Hospitality is beautiful

Seeing similarities between South Africa and USA

The reality of relocation as breaking apart communities

Taking a risk to talk to people is rewarding

Do not sit comfortably in the status quo

We need to trust in God and encourage others to do the same

How have you seen God?

In the people hosting and feeding us

How we have come together as a group like a family

The Suderman kids – embodying love and joy through laughter, hugs, dancing, ukulele playing, surfing, and so much more

In the resistance groups we have learned about such as Fees Must Fall and Reclaim the City

Being challenged in our comfort

Hearing repeatedly the phrase, there is only one race, “the human race”

In the beauty of nature

-Lydia, Alyssa, and JD

Puerto Rico: Guanica

June 6, 2019

On Monday June 3 we went to Guanica, which is in the southwestern part of the island. We heard about the sugar factory that was actually located in a town called Ensenada. People who lived in Ensenada were able to work right there at the factory and when they got off work they could go to the store that was owned by the factory’s owners.   Our tour guide, Rudy, had a lot of information to offer. He told us that the land he inherited from his father, cost his father 50 cents at that time. He also told us that there were Puerto Ricans who migrated to Hawaii to show the Hawaiian people how to grow and process sugar. But the ship that was supposed to return never came back and so the Puerto Rican heritage was also in Hawaii. I found this interesting because he said that you can see and hear the difference between Native Hawaiians and Puerto Rican Hawaiians.

We finished with the tour early and decided to go on a spontaneous hike, which we were all excited to have some exercise with all the rice and beans we’ve been eating. When we got to the top we had a 360° view that had the ocean on one end and then the mountains and town on the other. It was breath taking and you could see God’s beautiful creation.

When we got to the bus, that’s when the group probably hit our lowest point in the trip. Most, if not all of us in the group were dealing with the feeling of homesickness and being in the null of the trip we were all feeling fairly down. When we got back we realized that over half the group’s backpacks had been stolen, mine included. I felt so many emotions and I didn’t know which one to let loose. There was this mixture of anger that someone would do this, and then sadness that a person would feel the need to do this, and also violation  because of personal things I had in my wallet. I think most of the group felt the same way.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the police station and got a small glimpse of how officials work in another context. Even though this was not an event we wanted to go through and feel this way, it definitely helped to bring us closer together as a group. Jenni and Adam were and still have been very strong leaders for us as we all had to learn this very difficult lesson. It’s been an amazing trip and even though it was only 3 weeks I think every person has grown in a new, positive way throughout the trip and we are not the same people as when we first came to this beautiful island!

~ Ryo Mazariegos

Group after our first salsa class

South Africa: examining criminal justice

5 June, 2019

This is a short post, but it was a heavy day:

At a place in Johannesburg called Constitution Hill, we learned about the history of criminal justice through the Number Four prison and Women’s Jail. They were open during the majority of the 20th century, a reflection of apartheid, as they forcibly separated people using walls and bars. Number Four imprisoned thousands of black men, many of whom were guilty of merely political crimes. Mahatma Gandhi and Robert Sobukwe are two well-known examples of prisoners who violated race laws. The black prisoners of Number Four were brutalized and treated unequally compared to their white counterparts, being provided inadequate food, bedding, and sanitation.

Similarly, in the Women’s Jail, Black and White women were separated and treated very differently; some of the inmates were political activists, such as the famous Winnie Mandela. Learning about the history of Number Four and the Women’s Jail raises the question: who is a criminal? A criminal justice system is designed to bring justice to those who break the law. But under the laws of apartheid, the system itself was unjust.

Similar to when we visited Robben Island a week after our visit to these prisons, we felt struggle in a deep way in these locations, where it was so evident. This quote found on the site sums up how it illuminates the strength of a human in struggle and the purpose of these sites to bring attention to this: “The buildings of Robben Island bare eloquent witness to its somber history and its prison buildings symbolize the triumph of the human spirit.”

Thank you Barbara for submitting questions in response to our last post! One we chose to answer:

–    Who were the white instigators against the movement of the Blacks? Were they the Englishman or Dutch or a combination or others?

o   At the time of the Black movement, the white people had identified as their own people, the Afrikaners. The heritage of these Afrikaners was and still is mainly Dutch and a few other white ethnicities mixed in. The Boers mentioned in one of the previous posts later turned into the Afrikaners in the early to mid-1900s, then started apartheid. The Afrikaners were the group responsible for starting apartheid and running it.

Looking forward to more : )


Puerto Rico: Home stays

This week has been filled with new people, new experiences, and new destinations. One of these new experiences has included the opportunity to take Spanish classes, which has allowed us to expand our vocabulary and improve our ability to communicate in Puerto Rico. These Spanish classes were conducted at ISLA. This week, students were assigned to live with local families. This has been a unique opportunity to fully immerse ourselves in authentic Puerto Rican culture. I have learned so much from my host family including: agape love, hospitality, and genuine kindness. In addition to our Spanish classes and home stays, we also took group trips  to museums, which included Museo de Arte in San Juan and the Museo de Arte, Historia y Anthropologia.

Lead photo taken at the Museo De Arte De Puerto Rico in San Juan
Dinner at our home stay. *Pork, rice, beans, and salad. This was a meal prepared by our host mom that was absolutely delicious.

Pictured left to right: Emily Oyler, Michaela Nichols, and Sonya- our host for our homestay.

Our week has consisted of many laughs, stories, and getting to know one another. Sonya and her husband Adriano, welcomed us into their home with open arms and kindness. Each day we ate breakfast and dinner all together at their dining room table that was prepared for us by Sonya. This picture was taken at Plaza Las Americas, the mall in San Juan. Sonya took us out shopping for a “girl’s evening” on one of our first nights with her. We feel blessed to have spent this week with our host parents. It has given us the opportunity to learn more about Puerto Rican culture and experience life through others’ perspectives.

Next week we will be visiting the south end of Puerto Rico and continuing our adventure.


-Emily Oyler and Michaela Nichols

Group after our first salsa class

Puerto Rico: bringing people together

25 May 2019

Our Catamaran trip was such an amazing experience!! We started out our trip on a 45-minute ride out to the small island of Cayo Icacos. It was beautiful there with the white sand and clear water (where the picture below was taken). Here, we practiced snorkeling, swimming, and had the opportunity to lay out on the beach or boat. After we ate lunch on the boat, we headed out to the middle of the water where the Caribbean Sea met the Atlantic Ocean. It was awesome to see the rough Atlantic waves coming into the calm Caribbean Sea. We stayed on the Caribbean side to snorkel since it was much calmer. While snorkeling we saw a coral reef along with many different fish. It was beautiful! This experience with all of my friends was wonderful and one that I will never forget!!

– Chrissy Delawder

30 May 2019

This past week in Puerto Rico has changed my life! I never thought I would be this impacted and see so many places in such a short amount of time. From white sandy beaches to the El Yunque Rainforest, from historic landmarks and battlefields, to museums, community centers, Spanish class, and plenty more…our group has seen and been a part of so much! Something that I see everywhere we go is how humble the people are. Hurricane Maria impacted this beautiful place detrimentally, of course, but many people saw the hurricane as a blessing to bring them together, re-build, and find ways to sustain themselves and protect one another from future hurricanes. I am blown away by how the people we have talked with have handled the situation they were put in, and I think we can all take away a lot from their constant positivism .

In addition, we started home-stays this week, and this is a much different experience than I could have ever imagined, but in a great way! My host mom is sweet and makes sure we get our bellies full before bed every night! I got the chance to sit down and talk with her last evening and really get to know her more! After home-stays finish here in a few days, we will be heading off to Ponce, Puerto Rico to continue learning, exploring, and serving. I can’t wait to see what this next week and a half holds for our group!

-Ally Coffey

Group after our first salsa class

Mexico: Puebla

May 16, 2019

I have had so much fun attending Spanish classes at the Spanish Institute.  My teacher makes class very fun and I really enjoy going. She has taught us many useful words and phrases that can be used during our time here in Mexico.  She taught us how to order food and how to have a conversation with a doctor since a lot of people in our group are sick. I enjoy learning things like this because they are very applicable in this setting.  

I have ventured to many places in Puebla with my language partner, Regina, this week. We both get along so well and have so much in common despite the language barrier and cultural differences that we have. She speaks English pretty well and is able to explain things in English when I am confused which I appreciate so much.  She has taught me how to ask questions in markets and has also taught me new vocabulary to use on the streets. On Tuesday (5/14), we spent our afternoon in a cute little cafe near the Zocalo.  She taught me how to order a drink and answered my questions about tipping standards in Mexico.  I got a mango smoothie this day and it was very good. On Wednesday (5/15), we spent time at the farmers market with a group.  She showed me everything and taught me the names of so many fruits and vegetables that I didn’t know. She pointed out many things that I should try to eat and experience in Mexico.  

On Thursday (5/16), we went to a market called Parian. This would have to be my favorite experience with my guide. We literally looked at everything twice. Everything was so beautiful and colorful.  There were so many awesome things there to buy as gifts for my family and friends back home. I even bought myself a bracelet and two backpacks which I will probably use forever. Right next to this market was an area full of local street artist.  She told me that it was her favorite place to go and I was so fortunate that she shared her secret get away spot with me. It was so cool seeing local people paint on the streets and peeking into their art galleries that were tucked away in little entry ways.  I thought it was cool that this area had a pair of Angel wings that people could take pictures with to make it look like they have wings.

So far in Puebla, I am loving everything and all that it has to offer.  My goal this week is to order a cemita on my own and eat the entire thing because they look so good.  As I explore Puebla this week and get more information about the impact of Spanish colonial rule, I would like to know if Poblanos still practice or have adopted some Spanish culture like food or practices.  I do think that life in Puebla today still reflects the colonial era just in the character that the entire city has. The buildings are absolutely beautiful and very historic. They are very eye catching and I love looking at the different tiles that buildings use.  I have experienced many attitudes in the structure of life here. Everyone is so friendly and come up to talk to you whether they know you or not. I really appreciate how friendly everyone is and how they are always willing to help. Everyone is so generous and giving. This was also evident in Mexico City and I just love how warm and welcoming everyone is.  Especially my host mom. She is absolutely wonderful and so kind. She makes sure that we have everything that we could possibly need and makes sure that she teaches us new Spanish every time we speak.

-Casey Coleman

Puebla Zocalo at night

South Africa: understanding the Boer narrative

What we’ve experienced, which has provoked much thought and emotion, are the many ways in which one history can be told. In the last blog post, we focused on the how the oppressed experienced apartheid, which, on this cross-cultural, is intentionally what we’re choosing to focus on first. In this blog post, we will elaborate on the narrative that the apartheid regime wanted to be heard. And it was, and still is in ways, heard loud and clear. Here we will go into depth of the white, Afrikaner historical perspective of apartheid.

So the day after we went to the Apartheid Museum, we went to the Voortrekker Monument, which told a narrative beginning in the early to mid 1800s. We traced a very specific picture that was being painted through the carvings of the walls of the monument; the bias was in favor of the Afrikaners and what they would consider their struggle.

Here’s what we gathered: the Dutch didn’t come intending to settle, but ended up doing so. The monument’s walls have stone carvings, which wrap around the main front room, depicting South African history from the Dutch (known as the Boer’s) lens. The story starts and ends with depictions of agreements, the first being between the Boers and the Zulu and the last being between the British and the Boer. Both agreements ended in “betrayal.” These betrayals had a galvanizing effect on forming the identity of who would become the Afrikaners.

In all of the depictions, the Boers are portrayed as victims of oppression under the native South African tribes present on the land they settled. This view of their victimization began when the Dutch were sent to run an outpost in South Africa for trade ships to stop at on their way to India. This victim view continues as they portray themselves in the monument as innocent, while the natives brutalize them. These natives were usually depicted as male, violent, and animal-like in demeanor. Almost every carved scene portrays Boer women at the center, helping the viewer to sympathize with the Boer, as noble protectors of women and children subject to this native-inflicted struggle.

A significant historical event that framed the Afrikaner history into a mythology was the Boer’s victory over the Zulu in the Battle of Blood River. This battle took place between nearly 500 Boer and 10,000-12,000 Zulu. During this battle, the local river was said to run red with blood, hence the name. This battle was so commemorative that it today is still marked as a significant part of the Afrikaner history.Furthermore, the Voortrekker was erected in 1936 just after the British had come and imposed many oppressive laws and even placed many Boers in concentration camps while attempting to colonize South Africa. This oppression is another galvanizing event in the Afrikaner past that helped shape their identity leading up to the Apartheid era. The Voortrekker is a manifestation of Afrikaner mythology, and a shrine to commemorate the “struggles” that the Boer settlers overcame.

photo credit: https://www.safarinow.com/destinations/groenkloof/galleriesandmuseums/voortrekker-monument.aspx