A semester in Europe
“Adjustment,” “family relationships,” “frustration” and “siesta” were some of the words that Eastern Mennonite University students used to describe their cross-cultural semester in Spain and Morocco. The group shared the joys and struggles of their life-changing experience in a chapel service Wednesday, Dec. 10.
Nineteen EMU students who spent three months studying and traveling in Spain and Morocco, led by Dr. Moira Rogers, professor of Spanish, shared their experiences through personal journal reflections, skits, music and a slide show.
The group spent their first month living with host families in Cadiz, Spain, in intense Spanish language study and exposure to the country’s history and culture. After some time in Tangier, North Africa, and some free time for travel, students spent five weeks in Fez, Morocco.
Some group members were already well-versed in Spanish, while others hardly knew a word, making it difficult to communicate with host families and understanding concepts in the intense, daily language study. “It was especially difficult to say goodbye to our host families when we were just starting to improve our communication skills,” said Nicole Yoder, a junior social work major from Harrisonburg.
“Experiencing a sense of community across cultures with host families” proved the highlight of the program for many group members.
Students shared journal entries describing the amazing sights and sounds of the cities and towns they lived in and did a humorous skit on the aggressive, yet friendly street merchants who kept offering them “really good prices” on merchandise.
“Especially in Morocco we had to go everywhere in pairs for the entire time,” said Sarah Harder, a junior communication major from Mountain Lake, Minn. “I’ll never take my independence for granted again.”
The group shared the travails of “learning to “squat” in various locales when nature called and finding no toilet paper available.
“Our host families would constantly give us more food than we could possibly eat,” said Jasmine Brubaker, a junior social work major from Lancaster, Pa. ” I won’t forget the many times and places we sipped tea and ate sweets” (in Morocco). Even complete strangers made us feel welcome.”
The students left Morocco and returned to Spain for more intensive study and field trips that reinforced what they learned in classes. This time, the group all lived under one roof, which, Steven Rittenhouse noted, “helps you really get to know others intimately and despite our differing personalities we felt a strong unity as a group.” Rittenhouse is a sophomore mathematics and secondary education major from Green Lane, Pa.
“The opportunities for interfaith dialog between Christians and Muslims” stood out for Abigail Spurrier, a junior culture, religion and mission and Spanish major from Pennsylvania Furnace, Pa. “God’s love really came through despite differing beliefs.”
– Story by Jim Bishop