Cross-cultural: more than study abroad

Imagine reading the Bible from a site where Jesus may have preached. Or studying art and history in locations where the events you’re discussing actually took place.

On cross-cultural, a requirement at EMU long before it became trendy, you’ll travel to live with another culture and journal, reflect, and process the experience as a group along the way, led by experienced professors who have lived and worked internationally.

All students complete a cross-cultural, most spending a semester in another part of the world, like the Middle East, India, Central America or Africa. One of the few programs of its kind, EMU’s cross-cultural requirement can be fulfilled in one of many locations across the globe or in the United States through EMU’s Washington D.C. center, which offers student an urban setting and meaningful internships.

New culture, new perspective

“The combination of all our experiences was life-changing. I’ve been home for about five months now, and I am still figuring out the ways I have changed. I’m more open and global-minded, less concerned about material things, and I have a genuine desire to live more simply.”

Josh Kanagy,
EMU psychology major

EMU junior Josh Kanagy, co-leader of Earthkeepers, was already in tune with a campus community that values simple living, but his travels and studies with Kim Brenneman, EMU professor of psychology, to India in spring 2011 led to a deeper understanding of stewardship and hospitality.

“Our host families were incredibly warm and hospitable, despite a huge language barrier.” Though these are the Josh’s words, they have been said by thousands of cross-cultural students over the decades.

Despite what is sometimes a huge language barrier, students and their host families communicate, laugh, and live with each other. Students stay with local families in well-known communities, like Bedouin tents in Egypt and the townships of South Africa. Host “sisters” and “brothers” provide companionship, insight and support in language learning.

Forging friendships

Cross-cultural groups are often very close after their return, having forged a special friendship that will last years and even decades. EMU alumni who gather for events invariably remember whom they were on cross-cultural with and what they did. Some plan reunions on campus during Homecoming, some become lifelong friends with the professors who led their groups.

“Our group went through a lot together,” says Josh. “Many new and lasting friendships were formed. There is a special connection we all share now, that can only form through experiences of such intensity.”

One of Josh’s favorite parts of his cross-cultural to India was whitewater rafting down the Ganges River in Rishikesh, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

“The climate was perfect, and it had been months since we had seen mountains and an atmosphere clear of smog. Through the days we hiked and rafted down Class 3 rapids, and at night we drank chai and sat around camp fires until the stars had brightened overhead and fireside chats turned deeper.”

An urban cross-cultural nearby

Even though he traveled to India just under six months ago, Josh is again preparing for a cross-cultural, this time to nearby Washington, D.C., where he will participate in EMU’s Washington Community Scholars Center. Students live in intentional community in urban D.C. while working up to 20 hours a week at internships.

Longtime WCSC professors Kim Schmidt and Doug Hertzler lead weekly seminars on social problems, faith issues and urban experiences through reading and writing, the arts, field trips, and group discussion. Guest speakers, internship visits, and history and arts tours are part of the weekly seminar course.

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