Kyle Miller and Michaela Lane swing over the Vilna River in Lithuania. They were two of eight students who accompanied Professor Jerry Holsopple and co-leader Fabiana Espinal on a five week long cross-cultural trip this summer. (Photo by Jerry Holsopple)

Students travel through Lithuania in first in-person cross-cultural since the pandemic

Eastern Mennonite University resumed its traditional cross-cultural programming this summer, as Professor Jerry Holsopple, assistant leader Fabiana Espinal, and eight students photographed their way across Lithuania in June and July. They were the first group to travel outside the United States since the Guatemala cross-cultural returned in spring 2020.

The students honed their craft while visiting Catholic and Orthodox churches, Soviet monuments, windswept beaches, and Holocaust sites.

To travel again, not as a tourist, but with a group that is engaging with local people, exploring beautiful places and being stretched by difficult stories and realities, is exhilarating and exhausting. I got to connect with old friends, introduce my students to the deep connections I have in Lithuania, and meet new people, like several local photographers. To be out of the classroom on the beaches, the cobblestone streets, the outdoor cafes, the forest paths all brought joy after what seemed like a long winter. Watching the students become comfortable in Klaipeda, have conversations and make friends, take risks to explore on their own and get lost,  and connecting this experience to their lives is why I continue to lead trips. 

– Jerry Holsopple, professor of photography at Eastern Mennonite University 

One memorable excursion took place at the All Russian Saints Orthodox Church in Klaipeda, a city on Lithuania’s Baltic Coast and the group’s ‘home base’ during the trip. They joined a service led by the archbishop of Lithuania, who switched to English for part of the homily. 

“In all my visits that has never happened,” Holsopple said. “He shared how important it was for all of us to come together with God as he welcomed us to the church.”

Holsopple was a Fulbright scholar in Lithuania – this was his eighth undergraduate cross-cultural trip to the region. A 2013 trip resulted in the photography exhibit and book, “Traces of a Social Movement: The Baltic Way,” about people who participated in a 630km-long human chain, formed in August 1989 across Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

“Thank you for the most eye-opening, wonderful trip of a lifetime,” student Shannon Cooper wrote to Holsopple after their return to the U.S. “Your wondrous, passionate heart is mucho appreciated!”

Check out photos from their journey below.

The group pauses for a photo while hiking the Hill of Witches – an outdoor sculpture trail of wooden folk art in the town of Juodkrante. From left: Fabiana Espinal, Thomas Erickson, Kyle Miller, Raegan Bruce, Jerry Holsopple, Jeremy Blain, Andrew Stoltzfus, Michaela Lane, Mandy Puffenbarger, Viktorija Giedraitienė, director of the Center for International Education at LCC International University, and Shannon Cooper. (Photo by Gediminas Juska, photography teacher at Klaipeda Service and Business School)

Shannon Cooper on a photographic exploration of the Jewish Ghetto in Vilnius, Lithuania. (Photo by Jerry Holsopple)

Raegan Bruce, Mandy Puffenbarger, Fabiana Espinal, Shannon Cooper, Michaela Lane, Jeremy Blain, and Thomas Erickson perch on a rock wall overlooking the city of Vilnius. (Photo by Jerry Holsopple)

Fabiana Espinal, Andrew Stoltzfus, Kyle Miller, Mandy Puffenbarger, and Raegan Bruce reflect on the constitution of the Uzupio republic in an artsy section of Vilnius, Lithuania. (Photo by Jerry Holsopple)

Jerry Holsopple and his friend Doug Enns hike through the “Dead Dunes” outside Nida, Lithuania. (Photo by Gediminas Juska)

Andrew Stoltzfus and Raegan Bruce stroll down the dunes. (Photo by Gediminas Juska)

Fabiana Espinal with LCC students Robin Mubarik (left) and Paula Pucite taking a selfie in Nida. In the background is Kaliningrad, which is part of Russia. (Photo by Jerry Holsopple)

Kyle Miller, Raegan Bruce, Shannon Cooper, Fabiana Espinal, and Andrew Stoltzfus tour the  underground portion of a Cold War-era missile silo in the Zemaitija National Forest. (Photo by Jerry Holsopple)

Raegan Bruce sits for her picture to be taken through the wet plate collodion process – an early form of photography in which the image is developed directly onto a plate of glass with the use of different chemical solutions. From left: Gediminas Juska, Joranas Bruzinskas, photography teacher at Klaipeda Service and Business School, Raegan Bruce, and Andrew Stoltzfus. (Photo by Jerry Holsopple)

Thomas Erickson’s portrait develops during the wet plate demonstration in Klaipeda. Andrew Stoltzfus sits in the background. (Photo by Jerry Holsopple)

Andrew Stoltzfus, Viktorija Giedraitienė and Kyle Miller study the statue on the grounds of the Franciscan Church in Kretinga, Lithuania. (Photo by Jerry Holsopple)

Discussion on “Students travel through Lithuania in first in-person cross-cultural since the pandemic

  1. Awesome! Thanks Jerry. I’m looking forward to hearing more as you share your reflections at Immanuel Mennonite Church on Sunday morning, Sept 5th.

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