By Celeste Fendt
Over the summer, several Spring Arbor University (SAU) professors traveled abroad to reconnect with old acquaintances, enhance their knowledge of foreign cultures and prepare for future cross-cultural trips for students. Here are a few of their stories.
Russia and Kyrgyzstan
Tears welled in her dark brown eyes as she recalled reuniting with the friends she had not seen in over 30 years.
“I was so pleased, so surprised by the fact that they were so happy to host me,” Inna Molitoris, lecturer for the Gainey School of Business, said.
Molitoris was born in Kyrgyzstan and grew up in Ukraine. But when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, her family was forced to immigrate to Russia. This summer, after receiving a grant from the International Initiatives Committee of Spring Arbor University, she spent three weeks returning to the countries where she was raised.
The Kyrgyz, Russian and Ukrainian cultures changed significantly after the fall of the Soviet Union. From diversity to new technologies, Molitoris was curious to see how these countries have evolved in the nearly 30 years since the collapse. She came up with two goals to guide her research: to explore the local business culture and see if it could be productive for American people to develop relationships there and to explore how Christians in Kyrgyzstan are perceived by Muslims.
“I found that [in Kyrgyzstan] there is a very welcoming culture,” Molitoris said. “I spoke to Christians about how they feel in this country and they said ‘wonderful.’”
Looking back on the Soviet Union’s anti-religious campaigns in the 1920s-40s, this reflects a significant change.
Molitoris attended a three-day international conference in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, that addressed some of these issues regarding globalization. One of her favorite memories from the trip was realizing that her college roommate was a key speaker at the conference.
Randy Lewis, Professor of Finance, traveled to Cuba this summer along with two other SAU faculty and 18 students. Lewis will be the lead faculty for the Cuba cross-cultural trip beginning in January of 2019. Professors Paul Nemecek and Terry Darling mentored Lewis during the trip in order to train him for the new position.
Cuba is a communist country that was closed to travel from the United States from January 1961 until July 2015. Despite this, Lewis said the group always felt safe there and the people were friendly and hospitable. During their three-week trip, they stayed in homes with families designated by the government.
During their stay, the cross-cultural group traveled to five different cities, including Havana, Cuba’s capital. They visited museums, beaches and the United States Embassy and got a first-hand experience of what the culture there is like.
“The nature was just gorgeous there,” Lewis said. “There were a lot of beautiful flowers and beaches.”
He recommends the trip to students of any major, since the country’s openness to U.S. travel provides what might be a short-lived window. A knowledge of the Spanish language is not necessary to participate.
“It’s a fantastic trip… and it could be a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Lewis said.
SAU’s Guatemala cross cultural and semester abroad programs take place at what is known as “Cambio,” an SAU location where students take the classes required for their trips. Professor Kim Bowen visited the Cambio site this summer for a few different reasons.
On his first trip to Guatemala, Bowen’s goal was to learn about the program and how students are taught there. His second trip focused on establishing relationships with the Spanish instructors working there. This year, on his third visit, Bowen went to train the instructors and interact with them through workshops.
Spanish majors and minors are required to take certain classes abroad, so the staff received updated syllabi for each of the courses offered. They also worked with Bowen on different workshops regarding teaching.
Because the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) recently updated their requirements for the preparation of world language teachers, Bowen also brought details of new policies. The staff at Cambio needed to be informed of these changes before the next group of students arrived to study there.
Bowen said that the Guatemala trip is a must for Spanish majors and minors at SAU, because studying abroad provides students with an “intensive immersion” that cannot be replicated anyplace where the native language is not Spanish.
While in Guatemala, students also have the chance to volunteer at local elementary schools and clinics in the area. Similarly to the Cuba trip and other cross-culturals, students stay in the homes of host families while in country.
“[This trip] will open students’ eyes and hearts to the Latin cultures and the Latin people,” Bowen said. “It’s a wonderful experience.”