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Faculty Members spread Purple Pride Across Globe

August 7, 2014 - by Lauren Reihl

During the 2014 spring and summer seasons, Mount Union faculty members traveled with small groups of students to countries across the world.

Earlier this year, Dr. Mark Himmelein led a travel seminar of 20 students to Germany to gain an appreciation for the culture. Students enrolled in Dr. Steve Kramer’s social responsibility course traveled to Guatemala where they spent their spring break building houses for the less fortunate. Dr. Helen Muga led trips to both Belize and Guatemala. Students traveled with Dr. Ting Shen to China to experience daily life very different from our own. Dr. Hamako Furuhata-Turner traveled with six students to Japan where they were completely immersed in the Japanese culture and experienced daily life in Japan. Leigh Ann Swartz and the Mount Union volleyball team visited Italy and Austria. Here are some stories from their travels.

Students Travel with Dr. Himmelein to Germany

Students led by Dr. Mark Himmelein, professor of German, traveled to Germany to learn more about the country and about student life in Germany today.

They visited Frankfurt and Mainz, located in central Germany, and had the opportunity to experience Fasching, the German equivalent of Mardi Gras, the weekend of celebrations leading up to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

“The celebrations involved tens of thousands of people and the atmosphere was exciting; everyone was enjoying themselves,” said Himmelein. “We were fortunate to have mild weather after such a horrible winter in Ohio that it practically seemed like late spring.”

Then, the group traveled to Bamberg and met with students studying there. Mount Union has a long-standing partnership with Bamberg University, and every year, one or two students come from Bamberg to study on Mount’s campus. German majors often choose Bamberg as their study abroad site.

"I think the best time everyone had was in Bamberg, which is really a college-town,” said Himmelein. “Our students met up with some other international students and spent quite a bit of time meeting and talking with other people. Although none had ever been to Bamberg before, after the first day, they all knew the place like the locals and were helping me find places. I’m hoping to continue with these spring break trips to Germany and Austria. I really enjoy seeing our students learning new cultures.”

The group then traveled to Nuremberg and Munich.

“As the instructor, I enjoyed the extremely positive attitudes of the students, all 20 of them, who really made the most of every minute of their trip,” said Himmelein. “Each one of them found things that interested them and really explored the culture further. It was a phenomenal group of students.”

Himmelein is a strong advocate for studying abroad.

“You are able to step outside of the world you know and experience everything from a different vantage point,” he said. “This experience is tremendously valuable to every student both personally and professionally. I have never met a student who has traveled abroad on a study program who has not found the experience beneficial. Even if you never have the opportunity to live, work or visit that country again, the effects that a meaningful study abroad experience can have on you are almost immeasurable.”

Dr. Kramer’s Social Responsibility Class Visits Guatemala

Students in Dr. Steve Kramer’s Social Responsibility course traveled to Guatemala to spend their spring break helping others. During the weeklong trip, the 12 students were working eight hours a day during the week.

While the trip is only one week long, students still benefit significantly from it, according to Kramer.

“Studying abroad gives students a chance to open their minds to the world in a way that you can’t have when your scope is limited to the United States,” said Kramer. “Even a short trip is better than completely missing out on such an experience.”

The annual selection process involves a written application and an interview, which helps to narrow down the students. While the pool of students who apply is usually 30-40 students, only 12 can go on the trip.

The group traveled from San Juan La Laguna where they were staying to San Pablo four miles away to work on service projects. They spent their time helping to build two houses funded by the class.

“The focus of the social responsibility course is to answer the question, ‘What does it mean to be a responsible citizen in the world today?’” Kramer said. “The advantage of traveling with a group is that the students can share the experience and talk about it. Being able to talk about it with a group allows the students to more fully process the experience. Faculty members can prompt questions and point things out that the students might otherwise not think about.”

Student responses to the trip indicate that the students also view the experience as an incredibly rewarding one.

“One of the most common responses that students have to the experience is the shock of seeing that even in poverty, these people seem fairly content with their lives,” said Kramer. “They seem to derive a great deal of their happiness from their families and their other close relationships, perhaps more than we do here in the States.”

Students led by Dr. Ting Shen visit China

Students led by Dr. Ting Shen went on a two-week trip to China where they not only went site seeing around the country, but also established friendships with students halfway across the globe.

The group visited Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu. They had the opportunity to see many historical sites including Tian'an Men Square, Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace. They also experienced the modern side of China – the Bird Nest, Water Cube where the 2008 Olympics took place and many skyscrapers.

In Beijing, students visited Peking University. Mount Union students learned about the university culture in China and formed great friendships. Mount Union students practiced their Chinese language skills while by ordering food, buying souvenirs, negotiating prices and chatting with locals.

“The students learned a great deal about a very different country and its unique culture,” said Shen. “The new knowledge also helped give them a better understanding of their own culture. They gained a global perspective, and the ability of understanding other people is a fundamental part of citizenship in a globalized society.”

In their adventures abroad, the students had the opportunity to interact with Chinese students and learn in a fun way that could never be replicated in the classroom.

“Our students made a lot of friends in China,” said Shen. “They went to karaoke with their peers in China and it was very interesting. Students from Mount tried to sing Chinese songs and Chinese students sang English songs. Eventually they found many songs that they all liked, and they sang together.”

The students sampled various Chinese cuisines throughout the trip, including the Sichuan Cuisine.

"When we were in Sichuan, one student, who is not a big fan of spicy food, encountered a dish that looked not spicy at all,” said Shen. “Then he took a big bite...and it was so spicy that he almost cried. It was really fun. Our students wanted to embrace a different culture and the famous Sichuan cuisine. This ‘scary’ experience didn't frighten them away. They were just more prepared.”

Dr. Furuhata-Turner Travels with Six Students to Japan

Students led by Dr. Hamako Furuhata-Turner visited various contemporary and historic cities in Japan including Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Nara.

During their trip, they were able to experience everyday life in Japan. The students interacted with Japanese students, stayed in a Japanese hotel, learned how to ride the Japanese train and subway systems and enjoyed authentic Japanese food. Students were very eager to try new foods, and enjoyed shopping for souvenirs throughout their trip.

The students learned how to teach English to Japanese people, but on their site visits, Mount Union students spoke to the Japanese students in their native language.

“Japanese high school students were very surprised that American students spoke Japanese to them,” said Furuhata-Turner. “The American students were very happy that the Japanese students praised their speaking ability.”

Furuhata-Turner believes that studying abroad benefits students by allowing them to learn about and appreciate a culture through first-hand experience. They also return home with an appreciation for their own culture and for the sense of global connection around the world.

Women’s Volleyball Team 4-0 in Europe

The Mount Union women’s volleyball team has proven that Raider Nation is no longer limited to the United States. Led by head coach Leigh Ann Swartz, the team traveled to Vienna, Slovenia and Italy where they went 4-0 in their international play.

While abroad, the team worked together to write a detailed account of their trip on a blog site.

In their first match overseas, the team had to make the adjustment to the European style of volleyball, but won three out of the four sets. After they played and won their second match, they had a traditional Slovenian meal with the opposing team. When they played their third match, it was close, but they won again. In their final match, they ended up winning in four sets, making them 4-0 in European play.

The Purple Raiders, who finished last season ranked No. 11 in the nation, went 31-5 and swept both Ohio Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles while advancing to the NCAA Tournament for a third-straight season. With a record like that, one might think that these women are strictly business.

As they traveled around Europe, however, they proved that this was not the case. They had the opportunity to experience the culture in many different forms. From traditional meals, site seeing and shopping, to completing a mountaintop ropes course and jumping hand-in-hand into the freezing Lake Bled, the team showed that they were there to do more than play volleyball.

In Vienna, the group had the opportunity to take the grand tour of the castle and experience the summer lifestyle of the Austrian royal family. While visiting Maribor Slovenia, they enjoyed a wine tasting at the Doppler Winery. They embraced their athletic side again in Maribor, when they went site seeing and had the chance to see the soccer field that holds the games of Slovenia's national team.

While in Slovenia, the team had dinner with the opposing volleyball team after their match.

“It was really fun to have the opportunity to talk to the Slovenian players over dinner,” the blog reads. “They spoke good English so it was easy to carry on a conversation with them and ask questions about their lives. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience.”

In Venice, they experienced typical life; they took a gondola ride and later relaxed with some gelato. When they went to Verona, they saw the Basilica and went to see the famous balcony of Romeo and Guilietta.

They explored the streets of downtown Milan, and that night, they stayed in the dorms of the Milan Volleyball National Training Facility, and were grateful for this experience as well as the trip as a whole.

“Being able to have the opportunity to play internationally is a major blessing for us, and is yet just another opportunity to get better for the upcoming fall season,” the blog reads. “We were proud to represent Mount Union in our play and show that we can compete at many different levels.”

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