EMU Celebrates Cross-Cultural Anniversary

EMU paused to quietly celebrate 25 years of “life-changing experiences” in a chapel service Wednesday, Nov. 14.

Several EMU faculty members who helped to shape the school’s cross-cultural study program reflected on the vision and process that led to the university formally making cross-cultural study, either stateside or abroad, a required part of its general education curriculum in 1982.

“EMU’s program was on the ‘cutting edge’ when it became a required general education component for incoming students,” said Marie S. Morris, vice president and undergraduate academic dean in introductory remarks. We are honored to have some of these early visionaries reflect on the program as part of this International Education Week ‘Celebrate the Vision’ chapel.”

crosscultural celebration
L. to r.): Vernon Jantzi, Ann Graber Hershberger, Kenneth J. Nafziger, Calvin E. Shenk and Marie S. Morris enjoy a lighter moment in reflecting on and celebrating the 25th anniversary of the cross-cultural study program at EMU. Photo by Jim Bishop

Vernon Jantzi, professor of sociology at EMU, noted that the school offered cross-culturals as electives for some 11 years prior to this date.

Dr. Jantzi credited Albert N. Keim, long-time history professor who was serving as academic dean during this period, with “really helping faculty brainstorm the best ways to package the program to make it truly international and a two-way learning experience. The entire faculty was deeply involved in the whole process.”

He also noted that Calvin E. Shenk, professor emeritus, wrote a paper on cross-cultural learning, many components of which are part EMU’s program today.

Dr. Keim appointed Jantzi, Shenk, Kenneth J. Nafziger, professor of music; and Ann G. Hershberger, professor of nursing to work at implementing the program. All four had earlier spent considerable time serving and leading study seminars in other countries.

“At that time, 70 percent of the EMU faculty had studied or worked in other countries,” Jantzi noted.

“We spent considerable time hashing out some thorny questions,” Jantzi noted. “How long should the experience be? Several weeks? A year? What countries to be involved? Should there be a service component?”

Today, EMU offers three-and-a-half week cross-cultural seminars during May-early June along with semester-long programs and the year-long Washington (DC) Community Scholars Center program.

Twenty-one students, led by Harlan De Brun and Audra Baker, are in South Africa the fall semester. EMU faculty will lead seminars in Latin American and the Middle East the spring 2008 semester.

“I think back and realize that I was just 27 years old when this planning process was under way,” Dr. Hershberger said. “But this involvement, along with many years of church-related service in Central America, has dramatically shaped my world view.”

Dr. Nafziger, who has led study-seminars to Germany and Poland and took the EMU Chamber Singers to Cuba twice, believes that learning takes place best when a group “stays in one place and concentrates on learning the language.” He would like to see a proposal from Mennonite World Conference leaders on “what they would like EMU’s focus to be in the future.”

Several speakers reinterated that some students enter the experience reluctantly but return saying it was the most meaningful, memorable part of their educational experience at EMU.

“In more recent years, we’ve been working at making stronger connections between what students experience in their cross-cultural immersion experience and what they are learning/experiencing on campus and in the local community,” Dr. Morris said. “We want to do a better job of integrating this life transforming experience into the overall educational experience at EMU.”

Dr. Shenk closed the session with prayer, giving thanks for what has happened in the cross-cultural program in the past 25 years and entreating God’s guidance and blessing for the future.

The audience left the auditorium pondering this comment from Ann G. Hershberger: “The critical question we must keep asking is, what do we do with what we’ve learned from the peoples and cultures we’ve spent time with – do we remain tourists on the balcony or fellow travelers on the road?”