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Emily Stratton

December 14, 2017

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Cross-cultural experiences showcase Bluffton’s enduring values

Stories of transformative experiences and life-long lessons filled Founders Hall Tuesday as students shared memories from their May-term, cross-cultural experiences. Eighty Bluffton University students participated in a cross-cultural last spring. Those students took part in one of six different experiences including travels to Bolivia, Botswana, China, Trinidad, Kentucky and Chicago.

Fourteen students traveled to Bolivia. They spent two weeks learning about the culture and history of the South American country while interacting with children at a school, an orphanage and a daycare center. Emmy Runyan, a food and nutrition major from Urbana, Ohio, spoke about all of the surprises the group faced during the experience, including seeing one of Bluffton’s enduring values in action.

“I think we can all agree that one of the biggest surprises would have to be the friendships we made and the friendships we solidified along the way.”

It was not just relationships amongst students that were formed but also with the people they met. 

“There is no doubt in my mind that someday I would love to return to Bolivia, but I already know that it would not compare to the trip we just took,” said Runyan. “To me, it is the people you spend your time with who make it great, and I am so thankful to have had this opportunity with such wonderful, loving, real people.”

Students spent two weeks living in Botswana amongst the Pitseng villagers as they embraced the lifestyle and community that they were living in. Participants of this experience learned how these villagers live, work, worship and establish a community by fully emerging themselves into this new cultural experience. 

“It’s impossible to describe this experience without mentioning the people, and the children are an especially equal part of that description. From our arrival there, we were swarmed by kids. What started off with a few bold ones following us quickly turned into hundreds following us everywhere we went,” said Molly Haberman, a middle childhood education major from Port Clinton, Ohio. “This ability to find the beauty in everything was a common theme we found in the people we encountered on our trip, including being so thankful despite having so little. The joy and faith that these people had is something that still resonates with me today.”

Students traveled to the Caribbean to take part in the Trinidad experience. Highlights of their experience included being exposed to the ethnic and religious diversity and having the opportunity to work with the Mennonite Churches of Trinidad and Tobago. 

Genna Zachrich, a middle childhood education major from Findlay, Ohio, explained how the people of Trinidad reminded them of back home, even sharing a story that happened to Dr. Randy Keeler, professor of religion, who led this experience. 

“We were all amazed at how friendly the people were. Every person that walked by us said good morning or hello. The majority of the people that we met in Trinidad resembled the people we met on our first morning: genuinely friendly and easy to talk to. We all discovered that same day that the people of Trinidad are very trustworthy when Randy left his credit card in the machine at the bank and a local came out to return it to him.“

The Kentucky experience was a chance for students to assist with Mennonite Central Committee’s Sharing With Appalachian People (SWAP) program by renovating mobile homes. Students experienced the devastating impact of the coal industry on the land in Appalachia but also witnessed the devastating impact the decline of the coal industry had on the community. 

The group felt, though, that even though they were away from Bluffton, they were still able to practice the university’s values.

“We were able to demonstrate all four of Bluffton’s core values throughout our time in Kentucky,” said Kaycee Rowe, an exercise science major from Harrod, Ohio. “We discovered the land and ourselves, we built relationships and created a community of respect and we were able to serve those less fortunate, all while creating stories and memories along the way.”

Rowe shared how the trip was not only a chance for the students to share but was also a time for the students to reflect.

“Not only did we provide a service to those in the community, we also found time to serve ourselves and to serve God. We had nightly sessions, daily prayers and daily devotions that allowed us time to reflect on what our purpose is and why we were really in Kentucky serving those in the Harlan community.”

Eight Bluffton students are currently taking part in a cross-cultural experience in Guatemala. Four students are participating in the Washington Community Scholars’ Center in Washington, D.C., two are student teaching in Chicago and one student is spending the semester in Dublin, Ireland.