Around the World in 20 Days: Calvin students share stories from their Interim trips this January
Abby Bristol, England
I was so blessed to be involved in the art Interim course called Collecting the World, where we traveled to London and a few of its surrounding cities. As a sociology major, it was interesting to observe a different culture while being fully immersed in it. I think the most interesting thing to me throughout the trip was discovering the misconception that Americans and British are essentially the same. While it’s true that there is less of a language barrier, and people look similar in appearance, there is so much about British culture that is unique and surprising. I had never before been in a place where there is still a royal sovereign. There are parks, palaces and pieces of the cities still dedicated to the queen and her reign. Learning about the peoples’ loyalty to their queen was awesome. I think the parts of the trip I enjoyed most were learning how to navigate their public transportation system and traveling in the country in general. There are people EVERYWHERE — we were always in close quarters. I enjoyed visiting the palaces and the museums immensely. There is so much history in the city of London; I have never seen buildings so daunting, yet intricately constructed. I have never been able to say that I have stood inside a building built nearly 500 years ago. This is a culture rich in art, literature and history, significant in the development of the modern world and keenly aware of its place in the world.
Erin Smith, Uganda
We met a group of seminary students in a classroom, and after we left the room to move onto our next meeting I looked back in, curious about all their musical instruments. There was a massive stringed something that I desperately wanted to try. One student saw me peeking in and he beckoned me back into the room and began to show me how to play the strings. Pretty soon I was plucking away and he was singing and we were making music together! When the rest of my group heard the music, they all piled back into the classroom and started playing, singing and dancing too! It was a big, spontaneous musical party!
Dan Happ, Honduras
Over Interim, myself and nine other Calvin students went on a trip to Honduras. During the first week of our trip, we biked across the country from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast. Wow, what an experience that was! I never knew that hills could be that big and that mountains could go on for that many miles. The bike trip was put on by an organization known as “Transformemos Honduras.” Their mission is to “seek to transform Honduras through empowerment of society and a more effective and efficient democratic system that improves public health, education, justice and public safety and acts with transparency and corruption in the poverty reduction country.” They do this by getting people involved and showing them the good that is happening all around them. The bike trip mainly focused on the education in Honduras and how it is changing for the better. In each town we would stop in, we honored kids who excelled in their school with bikes and scholarships. It was so neat to see the joy come to their faces when they would receive their new bike.
After the bike trip, we had a week of living with a Honduran family in Santa Lucia. This was a week filled with many laughs, blank stares, new experiences and great times. Each day we learned something new about Honduras and what was happening in the country. Honduras is the most dangerous country in Central America due to drug trafficking. It was very nerve-racking going to a country that has a very high violence rate. Our professors and their son, Kurt, Jo Ann and Noah VerBeek, really helped us feel comfortable by teaching us about what we can do to stay safe and still have a good time. It was wonderful meeting them and seeing just how much they risk each day in order to help people less fortunate than themselves.
After our week in Santa Lucia, we hit the road and started our few days of new adventures. We went snorkeling, rock climbing, repelling, horse-back riding and cliff jumping. We walked under waterfalls, visited the ruins and much more! This trip was filled with many laughs and experiences that we will never forget. I hope that every student at Calvin gets a chance to go on an Interim aboard trip. It will change your life and bring you close to people you may have never met. I am glad that I was able to do this my senior year and hope that this is only the start to many more adventures in my future.
Rachel Otten, Israel
My favorite part of my trip to Israel was definitely when my group visited St. Anne’s Church in Jerusalem. This church is built next to the Pools of Bethesda and also marks the beginning of the Via Dolorosa, which is said to be the path that Jesus took while carrying his cross. The architecture of St. Anne’s is absolutely breathtaking. It was built specifically for acoustics and is an extremely popular site for Christian pilgrimages. Before entering the church, our leader told us that all we would do inside was sing. We quietly entered and sat down in the pews. There was a stillness there that I’ve never experienced before. Then, our large group of around 40 students and teachers began to sing. Among others, we sang two of my favorite songs: the Doxology and “It Is Well With My Soul.” In those moments, most of us were brought to tears. It was simply unbelievable to hear our voices resounding praises to God in the church. Even more meaningful was when I thought about the many Christians of the past who had traveled to that exact church, sat in those same pews and sang similar praises to our God. It was truly wonderful and I encourage everyone to experience it some day if they can.
Mariel Knot, Kenya
It’s difficult to pick a favorite memory. They range from meeting a fiery and inspirational woman who started a women’s refuge village to watching water drip from a well in a remote village that had been dry for a year and a half, from seeing God’s hand at work through a joyful Christian organization in the Kibera slum to kissing a giraffe or hiking through Hell’s Gate National Park (the inspiration for the landscape in “The Lion King”). The list goes on and on. The focus of this Interim in Kenya was analyzing the technical, social and health aspects surrounding water access and usage within various Kenyan environmental regions. During our weeklong stay in Sedai, a small village in the remote Samburu region, I found much joy in my visit to a women’s health clinic with the three other nurses and one brave engineering girl. Once the five of us arrived at the health clinic, we had to walk a short distance to meet the women of the village under a shady tree near their minyatas (traditional homes in the African bush). I had the absolute privilege of carrying the health worker’s 2-month old baby girl on my back using a large piece of cloth like a traditional mother there would. This was the beginning of a great day. The clinical officer introduced us to the women and children of the village. The health worker began by discussing the importance of coming to the clinic to birth their children instead of having their children in the unsanitary conditions of their home. She also talked about the importance of breastfeeding. The women of the village were very responsive and thankful for the clinic. They engaged in conversation with us, answered any question we had about female genital mutilation (a traditional, cultural practice in which the woman is circumcised), marriage, or women’s health, and even invited us into one of their homes where they acted out a traditional birth. Because of my interest in women’s health, I found this day incredibly fascinating. It was a blessing to engage in such beautiful conversation with God’s women across the world.
Nate Ziegler, China
While we were in China, we took the public transportation train system in Shanghai quite frequently. We ventured onto the buses only one time, but that experience will absolutely stick with me. When our group of 23 people boarded the bus, I thought it was full before we even got on. At each ensuing stop, we dropped off a few passengers, but picked up more than we lost. As our bus netted more and more people, we were pressed closer and closer to everyone around us until we were pushed up against someone on all sides. When we finally reached our stop, we poured out of the bus and enjoyed fresh air again.
Abby VandenAkker, Costa Rica
Picture this. It is 6:00 on Sunday morning, the roosters are crowing and the sun is shining. God is good. I am sitting on a huge rock at the home of the Lopez family in a rainforest in Costa Rica, looking out at God’s beautiful creation. Green hills and palm trees surround me while the Rio Savegre flows to my right. My ears are filled with the sound of flowing water, singing birds and the pleasant chatter from the family making breakfast. Soon everyone is awake and my heart is filled with scripture, song and prayer. Never have I felt so close to God and his goodness; this Sabbath day is one I will never forget.
Our month in Costa Rica was filled with incredible experiences just like that one. It’s hard for me to look back at all the things we did this past month and pick out just a few favorite memories. Each new day brought adventure, challenge, laughter, rich conversation and growth. We learned how to save lives with rescue ropes and paddle through the rapids while not flipping our duckies (two-man rafts). We swam down class three rapids where we did flip our duckies, rolled in a kayak and zip-lined through the rainforest. We had Ticos (our Costa Rican guides) yell, “paddle, paddle, paddle” until finally surfing a wave. We hiked up some pretty steep hills, over trees and through mud that could eat your boots. We explored caves that had the biggest spiders I’ve ever seen in my life, sang hymns with the beautiful families we stayed with, repelled down waterfalls and snorkeled in the ocean only two hundred yards away from two humpback whales. We did sunrise yoga on the beach, saw some pretty neat wildlife and made friendships that will last a lifetime. This past month in Costa Rica was one of the greatest months of my life. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to experience such a beautiful culture with such amazing people. God is good. Pura Vida!
Nick Visser, Europe
One afternoon in Paris, a group of fellow students and I decided to tour the catacombs under the streets. These mass burial grounds housed the bones of six million bodies, all moved there when the churches ran out of room for the remains of commoners hundreds of years ago. We walked between walls constructed with leg bones, with countless skulls set into the walls and other bones tossed behind. It was quite a surreal experience. In retrospect, I can compare it to our later experiences concerning the Holocaust and concentration camps in Germany: about six million Jews lost their lives during those years, and that number really had no physical meaning for me until I saw the endless piles of bones underground.