The first week of the EMU Europe Intercultural was spent in Salzburg, Austria. The group spent the time getting adjusted, learning the culture, and exploring the new area. For me, it was full of emotions. Excitement and Sadness are the most present. I was super excited to have this new adventure, but leaving behind my family and the EMU community was a much more difficult task than I had expected. In such a short time, I have realized that the self-growth I will gain from this trip will be significant and I’m excited to continue learning about the new area and myself.
After 6 weeks in Lithuania, all 17 of us EMU students have gone our separate ways for the rest of the summer. It’s been strange to go from seeing each other every day to not at all. One of the phrases that Jerry Holsopple, our leader, repeated throughout the trip was “History is complicated.” We saw that over and over again throughout our trip – especially when we looked at it from multiple different perspectives. Learning about the history of Lithuania and the impact of the Holocaust and the Soviet Occupation on the country was very humbling. While we learned a lot of difficult history, we also had a lot of fun getting to know each other. I think one of the coolest things about intercultural trips at EMU is the fact that they are composed of people who probably wouldn’t have met each other otherwise. I’m sure that the stories we learned and the relationships we created will stay with us long after our time at EMU is over.
Spending six weeks in Lithuania has been one of the greatest opportunities of my life so far. While being immersed in a new culture came with a multitude of emotions, it was eye-opening and an overall wonderful experience. From our time in Lithuania, we learned the culture by wandering the cities of the different Baltic countries, trying authentic foods, participating in religious services, and experiencing celebrations such as the St. John’s Day festival. Additionally, we had the chance to learn and understand the culture on a deeper level by listening to locals share their stories, learning about the Soviet occupation and the Baltic Way Movement, exploring Holocaust sites, and witnessing the current support of Ukraine.
While I am beyond grateful to have gotten to learn the history and culture of Lithuania and the other Baltic countries, I am most grateful for the bonds and friendships I have created during these six weeks. Spending time walking around Klaipeda, going to coffee shops, shopping at Akropolis, walking to Iki, lying on the pier in Nida, hanging out in the lounges at LCC, eating at Katpėdėlė, singing at our weekly group dinners, and spending every waking hour with each other on the 9-day Baltic tour are some of my favorite memories because it gave us the chance to know each other and form bonds that we did not have before, as well as strengthening pre-existing bonds. As the bonds formed, it allowed us to confide in one another during emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually difficult times, which was definitely needed during this time. Not only am I grateful for meeting and spending time with a great group of people from EMU, but I am also glad that I had the opportunity to meet international students from LCC and learn about their cultures that differ from Lithuanian culture.
This trip has taught me an immense amount about Lithuanian culture and some Latvian and Estonian culture, but it has also taught me about my own culture. I learned more about myself, who I am as a person, and why I have the personal beliefs I have. Some of my spiritual and political beliefs were tested at one point or another during these six weeks, but it ultimately made me stronger and a more confident person. If it wasn’t for Jerry choosing me for this trip, I would never have had the opportunities to see new countries, learn new cultures, meet new friends, and become a stronger person, and for that, I am truly grateful!
A memorable experience is when Lauren and I were walking around iki (grocery store) in Latvia, I think, and we started messing with the volleyballs that were in a big bin in one of the aisle and an old man came up to us who didn’t understand English and told us to toss the ball to him, so we did, and that went on for a good minute with us passing the volleyball (poorly) to each other and he said we were fantastic.
Our time in Lithuania has been a very formative part of my college experience. Although I had just finished my first year, and this would normally be a little early to do intercultural, I really wanted to go on this one with Jerry, especially because it was his last trip. We got to see parts of the world that I had never been to before, and I got to improve my photography skills, which was an enjoyable although sometimes difficult process. I am glad to have had the chance to spend this time in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, and to have made so many great memories with this group.
I first saw the cross-cultural requirement as a cool but inconvenient aspect of attending EMU, one that I couldn’t figure out when was the best time to embark on. I eventually decided to check its box off after I walked the stage at graduation and labeled it a “vacation.”
The time spent in Lithuania was worth the preceding four years of anticipation and I savored every tiny moment. Diving into another culture for an extended time was an amazing stepping stone for a greater sense of the scale of the world as well as our place in it. To a place so similar to home yet vastly different and one that will receive a look of confusion because it is not a well-known tourist attraction. The 2023 Lithuania intercultural will be archived as an integral experience and I am ever so grateful to have waited for the perfect time to make the trip and with those who traveled with me. I only wish more students had the same opportunity to travel and experience some of the same things we did this past summer.
Old San Juan
Arriving in San Juan was our longest time staying in one place. Our host families were unable to take us due to COVID but luckily we were able to stay at a convent. Well this was exciting and our group was grateful we were introduced to a new challenge that we would have to face…no AC in the Puerto Rico humidity. We managed to survive by ensuring that our room doors were open and all the fans in the building were turned on. Cold showers also became a blessing to us, and most often that would be the last thing each night before bed!
We hiked in El Yunque National Forest on the third day of our trip. Getting up early we boarded a bus and headed up the mountain. During this tour we had a guide named Edwin who told us about Puerto Rico’s culture and the long history of its relationship with the states.
Halfway through our drive we switched guides and were then met by Ricardo, our forest guide who was the ripe young age of 78. He informed us of why the rainforest is so important to Puerto Rico. It acts as a buffering wall during hurricane season as it is located in the NE and the winds come from the SE. Another addition to the rainforest’s power is that it is 3,500 feet above sea level and truly acts as a wall. The mountain is also a rainforest due to the fact that straight winds hit the mountain and the rain begins to evaporate. Once it evaporates it condenses in the air, then this condensation eventually becomes precipitation, leading to 200 inches of rain per year.
After learning all of this, Edwin prepared us for our hike to the top of the mountain. This hike was an invigorating activity full of all types of plant life. Interestingly much of the plant life in the forest is invasive and originally grows in places such as Europe, Asia, Africa, India, etc.
Our lodging in San Juan was at a convent (the nunnery) for the week we attended classes at ISLA Language School. Each morning we would get up, eat breakfast, and then get on the train to ISLA. Once there we had 3-hour-long Spanish classes to learn basic language skills, with the hope of holding longer conversations. Some of us learned it is okay to make mistakes because that’s the best way to learn.
Our Spanish classes were mostly structured learning but on the last day, the group was able to have karaoke and learn the salsa, a traditional Puerto Rican dance.
Another exciting day of the trip consisted of after Spanish classes being able to attend a service project. The service project had two different parts set in two different locations.
The other group also went to help clean up a small building that will be used for childcare. This group split into two parts, one to do the more housekeeping type of scene and the other to help paint a beautiful mural. The mural crew was able to fill in all the colors of the mural following the outline created by the artist. Learning how to mix colors and paint on non-smooth surfaces to achieve the best effect.
Castillo “El Morro”
Perhaps one of the most exciting days of the trip was learning how to do the bomba, another traditional Puerto Rican dance with a few key rhythms and interesting factors that make the dance what it is. There are two drummers who play music for the dancer of the bomba. The first is the Buleador, who marks the beat during the entire dance.
The next drummer is the Primo, and they follow the sounds and movements of the dancer. Their rhythm will change based on the steps and the way that the dancer moves her skirt.
Snorkeling and Bio-Bay
Yet another day of being able to explore the beautiful waters of Puerto Rico! Our group was able to go on a snorkeling trip in which we could see the coral reefs of Puerto Rico up close. Our snorkeling guides were amazing and showed us many sea creatures, allowing us to hold a white sea urchin, conch, sea star, and sea cucumbers. This adventure went by too quickly, but we were able to remain on the boat for more water-filled adventures.
The group had lunch on the boat and then turned back to the sea to watch the sunset on the ocean waters. Once the sky was dark we traveled further into the sea to reach a bioluminescent bay. This bay is filled with small microscopic creatures invisible to the human eye, but there is a way that their appearance is made known to us. They are able to glow in the water so when we jumped in and moved our hands, the water would just come to life with small blue glowing lights. It was almost as if there were millions of fireflies with blue lights filling the water.
Unbeknownst to our group this would be our last day in Puerto Rico, with our trip ending about a week early. Our group had to return home due to an approaching Hurricane that was headed toward Puerto Rico. Wanting to ensure the safety of everyone we returned home the next day with a love for Puerto Rico in our hearts forever.
As this is our last week here, I’m feeling a lot of mixed feelings. Especially this week, we’ve been focusing on the theme of gratitude. As I write this, we’re getting ready to have our final celebration tonight. It’ll be a great opportunity to celebrate everyone who helped make this trip possible and have a great time together. Over the past week, we’ve also spent time saying goodbye to our new friends here. These include George, who owns a small shop nearby, the Citadel, a local restaurant we like to go to, and Baquon, the local dance group. I’ve been thinking a lot about just how welcoming everyone is here. Everyone seems to want us to come back. This is just such a friendly place, and I’m going to miss being here. As we get ready to leave, we’ve also been thinking about how we’ll keep talking about what we’ve learned. The people here really inspire us with their resilience and resistance, and we hope to continue that in our own lives. It’s been a great honor that we’ve had so many locals tell us their stories, and it is our responsibility to share them. We have been so blessed by the hospitality and generosity given to us.
This week we had the pleasure of traveling to Jericho, the Jordan River, and the Dead Sea. Like all places here, there’s a lot of history in Jericho. We got to visit Hisham’s Palace and took a cable car up to the Mount of Temptation to visit a monastery and have a wonderful meal. At the Jordan River we saw what is remembered as where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Being there was really cool (and so was the water). We didn’t spend much time there but it was worthwhile nonetheless. At the Dead Sea, we got the chance to float effortlessly among the salty waves. It stung our mosquito bites and burned our eyes if we were unfortunate enough to be struck that way. The cool mud on the floor of the sea offered us relief from the hot sun and left us feeling smooth. We also wrapped up our final group presentations this week. It was a semi-stressful final period of preparation for it but it was really cool to hear what our group mates had been researching the past few weeks. I thought everyone had really strong presentations to share and I learned a lot on the day of the presentations. My time here seriously flew by and this final week has felt very bittersweet. I have a lot to look forward to back in the States but I’m going to miss so many things about this journey and this place. I really hope to return one day.
From May 27 to June 4 we took a trip through Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. We started by spending one night in Kaunas, Lithuania before going to Vilnius, Lithuania for about 3 days. Then, we traveled to Riga where we spent 2 nights before making our way to Tallinn, Estonia for 2 nights. Some students have written poems, reflections, and journals about their stays in each of the cities.
I love the woods, they’re beautiful
These woods look no different
The crunch of your steps
Smell of the fresh air
Light in the trees
Wind in the leaves
I could be happy to stay here forever if only it was by choice
I stand at the edge of a pit, trying to grasp it’s size
If my singular body feels this small, how many did it take to fill it?
Who’s parents, kids, cousins, friends or lovers?
Were my ancestors here? Which end of the gun were they on?
Did they know when their last goodbye was?
Villains tried to hide their sins but the earth remembers
Though the bodies are long gone the empty space remains
Lush and green, dandelions full of unclaimed wishes
Mother earth took what little they left of themselves and turned it into something beautiful
Does she know who was here when she hugged them in her grasp?
Did she resist when they were ripped away?
A single candle lays at the bottom, the altar of death
One candle for so many lives
I walk around the bottom, feeling the grass brush against my legs
It’s almost as though they are reaching out to be saved
Who is in this grass?
Who could they have been had they been given the chance?
A camera has a lot of power and a picture is worth 1000 words,
Yet I’ve never felt so powerless and 1000 words doesn’t feel like enough
No amount of words or trick of the camera can portray the weight of this place
There’s normally so many songs running through my head but the air has stolen them
Even the saddest are full of too much hope
Does everyone feel this, or do you need the history?
I can’t read the words left for those who were here, but maybe they’re not meant for me
This isn’t my story, so what gives me the right to have power to tell the story of the powerless?
I don’t have the skill to portray the weight that this place holds, and yet I can’t do nothing with it
Hopefully all you need is air in your lungs and just a little bit of care
Because that’s all I have
-Indigo Gott, Paneriai (Holocaust Mass Killing Site in Vilnius)
KGB Museum Response
No words can describe the way I felt in this place
Tight chest, breathe
Every moment, fleeting
Every move, forced
These rooms have so many stories
So much death
So much pain
Only enough space to turn around
Four concrete walls, trapped
Lights that won’t turn off
Sleeping on the floor
Lucky to be alive
Heaving and tears
Padded rooms, no one can hear you
Straight jacket, torture
Interrogation, hours and hours
Breathe oh god breathe
Fall into the water
Freezing on a pedestal
Standing standing standing
Breathe breathe breathe
My chest pounds in pain for these people
How could we, how could we
Tears well up in sync with the falling and rising of my shoulders
Empty rooms filled with unspeakable things
Outside is no better
15 minutes a day to experience the earth
Barely alive, only kept in concrete barriers
barbed fences higher than their hopes
The last one.
The worst one.
Kitchen, where they come to die
Here I can no longer think of,
Gunshots ringing in my ears.
Images of blood and bullet holes
I can no longer breathe.
I must escape
I must survive
I must tell others about these people
I can’t forget
-Cassidy Walker, Vilnius
Tallinn was our break, for almost seven days straight we visited places with unimaginable pain sewn into the foundation. We went to places with each step we took, we could feel the death and destruction that took place with each site we visited. Memorials, pits, and museums that would talk about the horrible occupation that took place among the Baltics, death sites, and concentration camps. Tallinn was our escape, our place to breathe and reflect on all we just learned, a place to relax.
The first night was beautiful. We had finally arrived in Tallinn, Estonia after a five-hour bus ride and a visit to a concentration camp along the way. When we got off the bus, I think all of us needed a breath of fresh air from the heavy thoughts we all were carrying on the bus.
From that moment on, Tallinn was a whirlwind of fun. The EMU and LCC group got to go on a night walk of the Old Town and see the most beautiful sites in all of Tallinn as the sun was setting on the Baltic coast. We were all in the moment together, laughing and singing and taking some fun pictures of each other with the most amazing sky and city in the background.
In my journal, I wrote “This city is like nothing I have ever seen before, it is old but loved. It has the best architecture, views, even the air feels lighter here. I wish we could stay here for more than two days just to take it all in”. We got a tour around the city, got to see the tallest steeple (of a Lutheran Church) in Europe, see where the square where the first mention of a public Christmas tree was placed, and so much more.
The main highlight of this city, and for some the entire trip, was the Ballet. After a feast at Old Hansa where we ate until we couldn’t anymore, we had the opportunity to see the National Estonian Ballet perform Swan Lake in all of its grandeur. The show was magnificent, so much so that quite a few members of our group tried to mimic some of those ballet moves after the show. Every movement was captivating, the live orchestra complimenting each move from each dancer in perfect sync. I still remember it as though it just happened, the humming of the strings with the gentle jumps of Odette, it was truly an experience I will never forget.
Flesh, Blood, Life
What’s with this hate?
Do you not see this flesh?
What’s with this violence?
Do you not see this blood?
What’s with this killing?
Do you not see this life?
Capsules scatter after every fire
Covering the Earth in a disgustful ash
A new layer of ground
Bodies fall limbs twist around like dolls
Deep into a new dark never dreamt
Lifeless in moments
Pits of humanity lost in sorrowful reckoning
Many dead, never to know this life again
Some not for long
A scary dream one hopes to escape to awakening
But this time is horror filled reality
A new dawn rises
Birds sing the same tune, with new chirps
Bugs fly, crawl, skimy across new forms
Flowers paint the blood stained ground with soft surrender
These fresh lives don’t know this history
This land echoes its past
Never to unsee the fate that fell upon it
Trees stand tall to lift up those who came to a vicious end
Stones made into markers for lives not to be forgotten
Tears of future generations will water this land for many years to come
Free Travel Reflections
This week was our free travel week- our big group split into several smaller ones, traveling to various different places. I was a part of a group of five that went to Greece! We left very early Monday morning, drove to the airport and were in Athens by Monday morning.
We had a few big things we wanted to do and see, but no strict itinerary so that we could just explore freely. We visited the Acropolis and saw many ancient ruins there as well as scattered throughout the city. We got a chance to explore some beautiful neighborhoods at the base of the Acropolis, all with beautiful colors and plants, hidden in tiny winding alleyways. One of my favorite parts of the trip was visiting the Athens National Garden. There were beautiful flowers and trees everywhere, as well as a lot of ducks, turtles, and other wildlife.
It was wonderful to see the sights in Athens, but we also had a lot of fun exploring, relaxing, and seeing new things. Some fond memories were made navigating through the public transportation system every day, riding buses and trains to go everywhere. These bus rides gave us the opportunity to read signs and try and teach ourselves the Greek alphabet. Although we did eat out, we also made a lot of meals which gave us the opportunity to visit grocery stores, which is one of my favorite ways to be exposed to new cultures. We also just spent many hours sitting on the beach, sifting through rocks, pocketing our favorite ones or sorting them by color. A lot of joy came from little things like these.
Overall, the trip was a wonderful excursion, filled with a good amount of both adventure and rest!
Free travel this past week was amazing. It had its ups and down as expected, but was so much more than I had thought it would be! Kristina, Greta, Afton and I, all traveled to Jordan for a few days. Our first day was spent traveling from Beit Sahour to Wadi Rum where we met with our guide that took us on a desert tour and showed us all the beautiful landmarks in the area. We walked through canyons, drove down sand dunes, tried learning stick shift and drank SO much tea! That night after we got to our camp we went star gazing with our guide and one of their friends. We sat around a fire, drank more tea, and shared riddles. Being in such a relaxed environment made it so easy to talk to the locals and get to know them, their culture, and general way of life. They live so differently than we do back in the US but yet there are so many similarities between us. I really enjoyed looking up at the stars and knowing that I would see the same ones when I got back home. The next 2 days were spent in Petra where we saw the ruins and made new friends (all animals). We spent a good amount of our time in Petra resting which was the best thing we could have done. After going through the checkpoint getting back into Israel we were all exhausted and shocked by how dehumanizing the experience was. Even though we were such a large group and went through faster than everyone else, it was monotonous and overwhelming. I am grateful for my American passport because it made my life 1,000 times easier than those with Palestinian identification, but my heart goes out to them all that much more. With every wonderful experience I have here in the Middle East, I am struck by the reminder of my privilege. It’s not easy, but if there is anything I have learned so far it is that knowledge is power, knowledge fights injustice, and we should all demand knowledge.
Our fifth week of the Middle East Intercultural offered an opportunity for free travel – a chance to “explore” countries and communities surrounding Palestine. Dreading the prospect of another plane ride and the nerves that come with leaving and re-entering Israel, I decided to stay put in our guest house in Beit Sahour. I was craving the chance to dig deeper into this place I’ve come to know as home over the past four weeks. At the end of our first week in Palestine, we traveled as a group to Jerusalem. The experience was jarring and unsettling as many of us struggled to reconcile the reality of being in the Holy Land while witnessing constant military presence at sacred sites. So when I had the opportunity to return, at a slower pace with a smaller group, I was ecstatic. My second trip to Jerusalem was difficult for the same reasons but also offered me many joyful experiences – experiences like getting tattoos with friends that had been designed centuries ago. After four weeks, our Arabic was significantly better as well (at least our confidence in it was) which was an easy bridge to new friendships in parts of the old city. I held a lot of gratitude for that do-over trip and a week of spaciousness.
On Saturday we were able to visit the Ayalon-Canada Park in what is, under international law, legally the West Bank, but is annexed by Israel. As we traveled to the park, we passed through the Bethlehem checkpoint where an Israeli soldier boarded our bus, checked our passports, and let us pass. That moment was one of many reminders that we, as Americans, can travel freely. Had we been Palestinians trying to visit a place that is legally Palestine, it would have been much more difficult.
Once we reached the park, we were met by Umar, who works with the organization Zochrot. Their mission is to spread knowledge pertaining to the Nakba and Palestinian history to Israelis. He led us through what looks like a typical park with stone pathways and picnic tables, but we soon learned that this had been the site of the ‘Imwas village until 1967 when the Israeli military forced residents from their homes and destroyed them. The stones lining the paths were rubble from bulldozed houses, and the large open areas had once been the center of the village. As we have learned about the Nakba these past four weeks, I still didn’t understand the scale or feel the impact of all the destruction. Even as I try to explain, I know I’m unable to capture how it felt. To know that Palestinian villages were destroyed is one thing. To trip over the partially-hidden remains of someone’s roof is something completely different.
Throughout the trip, we have been dealing with the idea of erasure. The reality of Ayalon-Canada Park is a reality of erased history. Umar and Zochrot advocate for signs marking the Palestinian villages that were destroying and honoring the people who have the legal right to return to their homes. As long as this history is erased, there cannot be justice.
On Saturday evening this week, we stayed in Nazareth and heard from Bader Mansour at the Nazareth Center for Peace Studies. Bader is a Palestinian Christian but has an Israeli passport and these intersections can cause complications. One of the first things he said that stood out to me is “We (Palestinians) are citizens, but not equal citizens.”
He told us about his journey of going to university for computer science and being 1 of the 2 Arab students out of a class of 100, and how after college had difficulties finding a job because of the Israeli discrimination against Palestinians. What stood out to me about this discrimination is the similarities between Palestinian discrimination and racism in the U.S., where it is all too common that BIPOC individuals will not get job interviews, jobs, houses, and the list goes on and on. How can we fully understand and address the Palestine/Israel conflict without recognizing the own injustices within the U.S.?
Bader went on to talk about his experience working in the Silicon Valley in the U.S., and then deciding to move back to Israel because of his family’s feeling of obligation to be peacemakers. After working as a minority Arab in larger Israeli computer companies, he ended up creating his own software company and has been at it for 25 years!
His understanding of the Palestine/Israeli conflict stood out to me – he said that the only way for this to be solved is for people to be willing to understand the other side more and have fewer judgments, as well as go and experience life [walking in] someone else’s shoes rather than just hearing about it. These reflections inspire me to work towards better change in the U.S. as well as to advocate against injustices everywhere!
We’ve officially made it to the halfway point of our trip! Our week started off with our 4 days of classes (Arabic and seminar). Although I do enjoy both of those classes, I was definitely more entertained with our travels this week. The first place we went to was Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. Dr. Abdefattah Abusrour spoke to us about the history of the camp along with about Al Rowwad Culture and Arts Society and their work within the camp. One of the main reasons for having started the organization was for the reason of “beautiful resistance” as Abusrour put it. By showing kids different art forms to express themselves, the organization aims to give them hope and also “a chance to live for their country and not just die for it.” After hearing from him we were able to spend some time with some kids from the camp. A group of us played board games and did face painting while the other group did more movement-based games. In the movement group, the kids taught us games that they
play, a dance they love, and some even showed us their special talents (mostly cartwheels). Even though there was a language barrier, we still found ways to communicate and connect with each other. Although they have to live and grow up within a refugee camp, they still had so much joy in their hearts to share with us. Sharing smiles and laughter with them will definitely be one of the things I will not forget about this trip. On our trip the word sumud has been a common theme. It means steadfastness or steadfast perseverance. No matter where we have visited, the sumud of the people of Palestine is so prevalent. Their strength is a true inspiration and incredibly hope giving. I’m excited to continue to learn about the history and culture of Palestine and listen to the stories of people we meet in the next few weeks.
This week our theme was “Listen” and throughout our week we practiced that. We had speakers come and talk to us about their work and also the things they are facing due to the occupation. We also visited two refugee camps over our weekend, Aida and Balata camp. Aida camp is located in Bethlehem, and while we were at Aida camp we spent our time with Al Rowwad Culture and Arts Society. And Balata camp is located around Nablus and while we were there we visited Yafa Center.
During our visit to Al Rowwad Center, we had a chance to talk with the founder and director of the center Abdelfattah Abusrour who gave us a brief explanation of the center and also what they do there. After that we had a chance to look at their new building where they have a guest house and spaces for various studies. We went to the rooftop and we got to see the camp as a whole. From where we were standing we were able to see two other refugee camps and also the wall which was pretty close by. And we had time to play games with the children there and before we left we did a dance with them. This was a really impactful experience for our group, with everything that was around them the kids had a space for them to just be themselves. And from our conversations with the director it was clear to see Sumud (steadfastness) in the work that they do and also in their unwillingness to give up.
Week three brought with it new friends, new experiences, and new struggles as we continued our studies here in Beit Sahour. The pages of my little notebook are filling quickly with poetry, statistics, Arabic vocabulary, and notes from our daily reading assignments, and journaling became a welcome practice to name my thoughts and experiences. It’s been comforting to feel established in one place. We’re all growing familiar with the city around us and enjoy excursions to get ice cream and coffee after our studies! The walls of our guest house are plastered with lists of Arabic words and phrases and polls about pineapple on pizza (among other fun things). As we all practice mindfulness together, I’m noticing small things to appreciate like the writing callouses on my hand and the soft, spongy texture of the pita we eat with each meal. The days have a rhythm to them; meals are always spent together at the table with classes, four square, and (of course) befriending stray cats in between. This week’s great excursion was to two nearby cities: Ramallah and Nablus. Some of my highlights included searching for fossils and identifying local herbs, eating knafeh hot from a street vendor, and face painting for a group of kids!
It’s been fulfilling to grow into new relationships with this group of people. Each day we feel more comfortable with each other and we’re able to laugh and work and cry together in a way that I feel is unique to this experience. Even when we are exhausted, we find a way to support each other. We’ve grown close to our hosts here at the guest house and have also been establishing new relationships with local organizations and educators. The more connections we make, the more that many of us feel we will need to return someday for volunteer work or just to visit our newfound buddies.
I have deeply admired the widespread passion for beauty baked into the culture here. Everywhere we go, art covers the streets. Music plays from loudspeakers in boisterous and joyful celebration. Everyone enjoys eating together and laughing and sharing stories. There’s a care for the collective and a sense of togetherness that I’m growing to love! Not to mention everyone’s outstanding generosity, for which I am so grateful.
Many of us have tired minds and bodies as we prepare for week four. Nonetheless, we find ourselves doing good work. Each day, we are full of gratitude and there are many things to look forward to!
Traveling to a new place can always be overwhelming. You are thrown into a new culture with hardly any background and have to adjust to new food, a different language, a new setting, and new people. One of the beautiful things about an intercultural experience is that everyone is experiencing the same things and therefore we can lean on each other when times are difficult. No one in our group had been to Lithuania before or experienced Baltic culture. When we left the United States on May 10th, a good majority of us did not know each other super well, but navigating a new place has required us to work together. We have collaborated when we get on the wrong bus and end up on the opposite side of town, or try to understand the menu at a Lithuanian restaurant. I’m sure that all of us have said, “Sorry, I don’t speak Lithuanian” or, “Do you speak English?” more times than we can count. During our time in Klaipeda, we have been staying at LCC International University and living with other college students who are also taking summer courses. Our roommates are from places such as Ukraine, Armenia, Belarus, Albania, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Pakistan. Even though we are thrown into Lithuanian culture, it has been a unique experience to interact with other students from so many cultures. In our living situations, most of us are with one other EMU student and two LCC students. There are also 7 LCC students who are taking our classes with us so it has been a good opportunity to get to know them and hear their stories and perspectives. I have never traveled outside of the United States so it has been easy for me to only see the world through my American perspective but these short weeks of being here have shown me that there are many important things that I have been neglecting. My daily issues seem trivial and I am humbled by the challenges that people from this area of the world have been through in recent history. While most of us probably wouldn’t have envisioned spending six weeks of our summer in a dorm, it has been a great learning experience to interact with people from other cultures and understand the world from a new perspective.
– Megan Miller
One of the coolest things about our intercultural is all of the new places we’re getting to see. We’re on our 9-day trip throughout Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia right now, but first I want to focus on where we’ve been spending our first few weeks. LCC is in Klaipeda, which is the third largest city in Lithuania. Most days after class we walk into the old part of the city, where there are lots of cafes or restaurants that we’ve gotten to try. Old Town is a really neat area to explore, and it’s fairly easy to navigate, although it was intimidating at first. Luckily, almost all of the people I’ve interacted with have been able to speak at least a little bit of English, so simple things like ordering food have not been a problem. The old part of town goes along the riverbank, and several students in the group have enjoyed meals by the water. We’re almost exactly halfway done, and have a lot of fun places left to see!
While in Lithuania, our group has had the opportunity to try many different dishes that we can’t typically find back home in the United States. Potatoes are very common here, and I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the group has managed to eat what is likely dozens of potatoes already in the two short weeks that we have spent here in Lithuania. Potato pancakes stuffed with pork remain one of our favorite local dishes, known as bulvinai blynai in the Lithuanian language. Another local dish that many students tried is called šaltibarščių sriuba. Rising senior Lizzy Kirkton said about this dish, “I was looking forward to trying beet soup here because it is so popular here and it was definitely worth it. It was good and… [was] more of a dill dip for the hot potatoes that came on the side.” Overall, it has been very fun trying all of the different foods here, and we are all looking forward to trying even more dishes in all of the Baltic countries as the trip continues!
– Abby Kaufman
For our first few weeks of classes, we would have a lecture from Jerry from 9:00 AM -12:15 PM in an LCC classroom. Including the students at LCC we have 24 people in our class. Our lectures consist of learning about photography, religion, and the history of Lithuania, mainly focusing on the Holocaust and Soviet occupation. The majority of us had never used a camera aside from our phones before, so the last few weeks have definitely been a learning experience. In addition, many of the US students had no prior knowledge of the impact that the Holocaust and Soviet occupation had on Lithuania and Eastern Europe as a whole, due to traditional US history education. One of the most important things we have learned is that, by percentage, Lithuania lost the second most of its Jewish population with over 200 mass killing sites across the country. The first few weeks of classes served as a crash course on our intercultural focus in order to prepare us for our 9-day trip, so we have learned many new skills and knowledge that have broadened our worldview already.
We are beginning to find our rhythm, waking up for breakfast at 7:30am, attending Arabic class, and then our seminar class after lunch with potential evening adventures. I have deeply enjoyed building new friendships and learning new things about amazing people in our group and locally in Beit Sahour.
The first excitement of the week was experiencing a sandstorm for the first time. Sandstorms are not like the movies, but they do kick up lots of dust and sand to where the air quality is much poorer. The same day, we welcomed the last three people of our group to Palestine. Afton, Iris, and Savannah were on tour with EMU Chamber Singers around Europe.
I am in the Arabic 1 class, and this week we learned the Arabic terms for the parts of the body, numbers, and identified alphabet letters within an Arabic word. I feel like I am learning a lot and faster than I normally would learn a language because I am so ingrained into the culture here and practicing Arabic daily.
The seminar topic for this week was connecting religion and the conflict of Palestine-Israel, specifically focusing on Christian Zionism. We enjoyed hearing from John Munayer, a professor at a nearby Bible college, and we enjoyed visiting WI’AM, a local organization known as the Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center. John provided insight into Christian Zionism and spoke about the struggle Christian Palestinians face between understanding what the Bible says and what the secular world says. Zoughbi Alzoughbi and Tarek Alzoughbi from WI’AM, on the other hand, provided each of us insight into peaceful conflict transformation within the local community we are living in for 6 weeks.
This Friday was probably my favorite day that we have had so far. I had a lovely breakfast with my roommate and host, Widad (who happens to also be my Arabic teacher). As we drove she waved to most people (it seems that she has taught at least 2/3 of the people in Beit Sahour). Next, we went on a hike in the Makhrour near Bethlehem. It was lovely. It was one of the few times on this trip in which I felt truly at peace. It was amazing to look at the terraces dressed with olive, pine, and oak trees and dusted with wildflowers and cacti. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Roman Watch tower and the small Roman Bath House along the way, since I took Latin for four years and generally have interest in all things Ancient Roman.
Next, we headed to our taxi driver’s house for tea, which I think is a fantastic example of how friendly the Palestinians are. His family was kind and welcoming, and the tea was great too. They also had a cat named Oscar! He was the first house cat we had come by, and he enjoyed being petted too, which is good because I consider petting cats one of my talents. Finally, we had a fantastic lunch, walked around Bethlehem, and then we rested.
I have come to the conclusion that Saturdays are going to be our emotionally taxing days, however, meaning full and worth it. We visited two amazing organizations, CPT (which documents the human rights violations Israeli soldiers commit, especially against children in Hebron) and Youth of Sumud (whose work includes building cave homes for Palestinians that would be difficult to destroy by Settlers and protecting Palestinian children on their way to school from them too). I have a lot of respect for them and the bravery and grit it must take to do this work.