By Jena O’Brien
A cross-cultural course is a distinctive element of Bluffton University’s general education curriculum. These experiences offer students a chance to go on a journey of personal discovery while getting the hands-on opportunity to focus on coming together with other students to provide service to many communities around the word.
While a majority of these trips only last a couple weeks, students are also given the opportunity to take an entire semester abroad all while fulfilling the university’s cross-cultural requirement.
Currently, Bluffton University offers its students to take an opportunity to broaden their horizons in both Guatemala and Washington, D.C. There are additional opportunities for students to take part in other abroad programs that may allow them to study in other countries while focusing on another aspect other than service during the course of their trip.
Taking a semester away from Bluffton can offer students a variety of new feelings and experiences. Abby Smarkel, a junior social work major, shared what the majority of the group of students that spent a semester in Guatemala felt.
“I think I can speak for all seven of us when I say that we learned how to be vulnerable and that in itself is an uncomfortable place to be. I learned so much about myself and my relationship with God through the emotional rollercoaster of culture shock,” said Smarkel.
While Bluffton students who decided to take a semester in Washington, D.C. did not have to overcome obstacles such as language barriers and cultural differences, they still had challenges of their own. Instead of a traditional classroom experience, students can expect to gain an education through experiencing the city during field trip type activities and taking part in internships that was a basis for their classes.
Dane Pitchford, a senior psychology major, described his semester in D.C. as both exciting and intimidating. While Olivia Poole, a sophomore undecided major, said “At first they were very intimidating, but they were really inviting,” referring to her co-workers at her internship.
Students who took part in the Washington, D.C. semester abroad program took their own internships with various businesses and organizations including the American Psychological Association, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. and the Smithsonian.
Elaine Suderman, director of the Cross-Cultural program offers insight on why Bluffton students should consider taking a semester off of Bluffton’s campus.
“When students participate in study abroad semesters, they become aware of cultures beyond their own. They immerse themselves in the culture and form relationships with people abroad. The world becomes smaller and they realize there is a connection that they now care about. It’s life-changing. And it looks great on a resume,” said Suderman.
Students interested in studying abroad should contact Elaine Suderman to get information and details about applying for a semester abroad.