Bluffton University’s cross-cultural experience allows students to experience a new place, to learn a new culture and the freedom to explore independently. A total of 12 Bluffton University students spent the fall 2015 semester on cross-cultural trips, either abroad or in Washington D.C. On Tuesday, they shared their experiences back at their campus home.
Seven of those students spent last semester in Guatemala. Participants included: Sara Roth ’16, a social work major from Findlay, Ohio; Abby Smarkel ’17, a social work major from Findlay, Ohio; Ashley Smith ’17, a middle childhood education major from Findlay, Ohio; Emily Scupholm ’17, early childhood education and intervention major from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio; Rachel Schoener ’17, a social work major from Flanagan, Ill.; Ruthi Stuckey ’18, an English and writing major from Stryker, Ohio; and Emily Short ’19, a biblical and theological studies major from Archbold, Ohio. The group shared their experiences during Forum.
The group spent the first 10 weeks in the capital, Guatemala City, taking Spanish and Latin American history classes at the Central America Study and Service program which is affiliated with the Guatemalan Mennonite Church.
During their stay, the participants lived with host families. They took Spanish class for four hours each morning. In the afternoon they took classes such as Violence, Justice and Peace and Global Studies.
Language was a barrier at first. For example, when describing her family back home, Stuckey mistakenly told her host family that her mom had purple hair instead of brown. “After telling my family back in the states, my mom decided to greet me in the airport with a purple wig.”
The Central American country has a population of more than 15 million people and is still recovering from 36 years of “civil war” known as La Violencia (The Violence). Peace Accords were signed in 1996, however, the country remains unstable in many ways. While the students were there, peaceful protests forced the president to step down and elections for his predecessor took place.
Short said she woke up to her host mom listening to the radio. “And she said, ‘the president left last night.’” Since that’s unimaginable in the United States, Short instantly wondered if she could still go to class. Her host mom simple stated, “Oh yeah, it’s fine.”
Along with the lessons, the students were able to take part in weekend excursions and a break week so they could also explore the area on their own.
For the final month, the students ventured into separate community learning field assignments. The students were matched with organizations that reflected their majors and interests. The volunteer placements ranged from Anadesa, a fair trade organization that provides women a fair price for their jewelry, to redPAZ, an organization committed to peacebuilding and justice work in the mountains of rural Guatemala.
The students returned to the United States shortly before Christmas.