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May trips put students in other cultures

By Julie Ooms

Dordt College has a commitment to increase students’ understanding of and appreciation for other cultures,” says Corinne Hentges, Dordt’s Coordinator for Off-Campus Programs. Several years ago, that commitment led to the adoption of a cross-cultural requirement that all students must complete in order to graduate. Students can fulfill the requirement by taking extra language courses, by being extensively involved in an American subculture significantly different from Dordt’s, or by going off campus for a semester on programs in the Middle East, the Netherlands, or Latin America. In these programs, students spend a semester in another country, learning about another culture, history, and language.

Aaron Nikkel, Melissa Schans, Jeanetta Groenendyk, Anna Venhuizen,
Kristen Vanderwal, Ashley Goeldner, Betsy Sapp, and Dan Elgersma
pose for a photo at the Corrie ten Boom Museum,

Aaron Nikkel, Melissa Schans, Jeanetta Groenendyk, Anna Venhuizen, Kristen Vanderwal, Ashley Goeldner, Betsy Sapp, and Dan Elgersma pose for a photo at the Corrie ten Boom Museum, "The Hiding Place."

Not every student can take a semester abroad. Yet many students, even though their schedules don’t allow them to go off campus for a full semester, do want to have an experience in a different country. These students have the opportunity to take one of Dordt’s May courses, offered at the beginning of the summer and open to any student in any major.

According to Hentges, the programs originated with professors, who were encouraged to develop summer courses on and off campus that could fulfill the cross-cultural requirements. The courses are approved like any other new course on campus, and students register for them like they would for any other course.

“Students have to pay an overload fee during the spring semester before they go,” Hentges says, “plus any program fees. Some programs are more expensive than others, depending on where the program is.” The three credits students earn on the programs go on their transcripts for the previous spring semester.

Right now, Dordt has four May courses that have already taken students to various parts of the globe, and one more is set to begin this coming May. Dr. Socorro Woodbury, a professor in Dordt’s foreign language department, takes a group of students to Honduras in her course titled “Central America: Language, Culture and Society.” Another foreign language professor, Leendert van Beek, takes a group to the Netherlands with his course, “Dutch Culture and a Reformed Worldview.” Agriculture professors Duane Bajema and Ronald Vos also lead groups of students. Bajema’s group travels to Nicaragua in a course called “Culture, Missions, and Community Development in Nicaragua.” Vos, who has done work in Russia and the Ukraine since the early ’90s, takes students to Hungary and Ukraine in his course, “Serving and Learning in Hungary and Transcarpathia, Ukraine.” This May, Jay Shim, a theology professor at Dordt, will bring a group of students to South Korea.

Students involved in all of these programs keep reflective daily journals during their experience and write formal response papers after they return home, reflecting on the differences and similarities between their culture and others.

“The whole world is included in God’s kingdom,” says Hentges, “and we should care about every corner of it, and the people who live there. The May programs do an excellent job of that.”

Netherlands —Leendert van Beek

“One of the biggest reasons that Dordt has a program that takes students to the Netherlands is that the Reformed faith has its roots there,” van Beek says of the program he leads. The eight students on the program, which begins the third week of June and ends two weeks into July, arrange to arrive in Amsterdam where they meet with van Beek and their fellow students. From there, they travel to various places around the Netherlands and Europe. During their three weeks in the Netherlands, students complete readings, engage in discussions, and visit the historic sites they’ve been studying. Students of Dutch heritage also have the opportunity to visit the places from which their families came. On weekends, the group travels to other parts of Europe; this past summer, their first stop was London.

In their journals, van Beek asks the students to focus on things they see that are different from what they are used to and things that are similar, especially when it comes to worship services. Students realize every day that they are learning not only about the roots of their family trees, says van Beek, but also about the roots of their faith.

Honduras—Socorro Woodbury

“Going to Honduras during the summer gives students the opportunity to travel to another country while they are in college, and to experience being a minority,” says Woodbury of the program she leads in Honduras. “Students get to see God’s creation elsewhere in the world—in nature, in people, and in language—and get to know other students from Dordt as well.”

Because most of their reading and discussing occurs before the trip in preparation for it, Woodbury describes her course as an “experiential” course, rather than a course based in bookwork. In Honduras, students study at and work with a church in San Pedro Sula called the Second Evangelical and Reformed Church of Medina. They stay in area homes. They hear speakers on a variety of topics, do language study and practice Spanish by speaking with Hondurans, travel to historical and cultural sites, travel to cities and rural areas and compare the two, study and discuss the history of the country, and engage in days of service. Last summer, the students went to an orphanage for part of their service.

“Students who go to Honduras learn an appreciation for their own country,” says Woodbury. “I believe you learn more about your culture while you are in another. Also, the students have the opportunity to increase their love for others in places and situations different from theirs.”

Nicaragua—Duane Bajema

Bajema says that the title of his course says it all regarding what it contributes to a Dordt College education: “Culture, Missions, and Community Development in Nicaragua.”

“While we’re there, we’re helping those in need and learning about another culture by living in it,” he says. Fifteen students can go on the program, and they come from a variety of majors. “We’ve had business majors, youth ministry majors, education majors, and others. I think students are drawn by the missions focus of the program. They want to learn about and see firsthand what happens in Third World countries, and see what they can do to give aid.”

The students explore culture, missions, and community development in a variety of ways. They stay at a mission agency and interact with groups from several Christian denominations and backgrounds, seeing how they engage in mission work and share their faith with the people of Nicaragua. “We even met a group doing missions through baseball,” Bajema says. They also spend time at a Catholic, English-speaking college called Ave Maria.

Students carry on community development by visiting with business and loan groups, medical aid groups, and educational institutions, applying their areas of study to various mission outreaches in Nicaragua.

“Students learn a lot about outreach on this program,” says Bajema, “and when they return, they are equipped with knowledge that can aid their churches in their own outreach efforts.”

Hungary and Ukraine—Ronald Vos

Vos’s aim for students who go on his program to Hungary and the Ukraine is for them to be travelers with sensitivity to the culture they are visiting, travelers who see the ordinary stuff of daily life. “We never know exactly what we’re going to do from year to year, or even day to day,” he says. “That’s very unlike what most Americans like—we usually like to have a plan—but in a way it reflects the culture of Hungary and Ukraine.”

Students on the program have done a variety of things, from visiting and helping at orphanages and Christian foster homes, to witnessing firsthand the rural development occurring in these areas, to teaching English at Hungarian Reformed schools. Vos collaborates extensively with the Hungarian Reformed Church, and students interact with people whose faith perspective is very close to theirs, though they live in different places and speak different languages.

“I think students benefit from this trip because it’s a different kind of cross-cultural and mission experience,” Vos says. “Hungary and the Ukraine are not a familiar part of the world to most people, and these countries aren’t popular ‘mission trip’ locations, either. Students come to realize the work that needs to be done and what they can do in these countries.”