Guatemala Immersion: Integrating Academics, Service, Vocation, and Faith

Contributed by Regan Postma-Montaño

Caitlin Skiba ’19 plays with children while their mothers learn to sew at the women’s social work site. Photo: Regan Postma-Montaño

This spring break, 19 Hope College students and I headed to Magdalena Milpas Altas, Guatemala on a 9-day adventure in Spanish language, Guatemalan cultures, service learning, vocational discernment, and faith formation. We lived with Guatemalan families and served alongside long-term Students International staff. Our team supported projects focused on building community by assisting at various sites: medicine, education, special education, sports, microfinance, sponsorship, creative arts, and women’s social work. When not at our sites, we worshiped at a local church, played soccer with host siblings, hiked up a volcano, and visited cultural sites in Antigua.

Jubilee Jackson ’19 plays soccer with team members and host siblings. Photo: Cecilia O’Brien ’21

One of my favorite parts of this immersion trip was seeing students at all levels strive to communicate in Spanish. At the women’s social work site, I watched as Spanish minor Caitlin Skiba ‘19 translated the story of site-director Sheny for the group. Later that day, I hummed along as intermediate student Clare Martin ‘18 sang a well-known song “Océanos” in Spanish. Whether enrolled in Spanish I or an advanced literature class or growing up in a Spanish-speaking home in the US, students persisted in communicating and found joy in using their Spanish to help others. There is something exciting about being able to connect through language, and this excitement grew throughout our time in Magdalena.

As a faculty member, I also enjoyed conversing with students as they integrated academics, service, vocation, and faith. More than once students connected what they were learning in various classes, including Spanish, feminist theory, microfinance, and world religions, with their experiences in Guatemala. These conversations on the mile-long walk to the community center, before lights-out, and on the flight home allowed students to integrate their head knowledge with their desires to serve and realities of the community in Guatemala.

Perhaps this integration is best articulated in a Emily Ureste’s ‘18 words (Majors: Spanish, Social Work):

The combination of being involved in local life in the town through host families, speaking Spanish, participating in a site that pertains to my interests and promotes sustainability and empowerment, and growing as a Christian and a team member was incredible. In regard to Spanish, I recently took a linguistics class at Hope, so learning the local slang and dialect was invigorating for me as I was able to incorporate what I learned in my classes. In addition to this, the trip involved many of the themes from Spanish IV and Latin American literature classes, such as indigenous rights in Guatemala and the film El Norte. Essentially, this trip allows the classroom to come alive in the real world.

Autumn Smith ’20 and Emily Ureste ’18 tour the city of Antigua. Photo: Cecilia O’Brien ’21

Emily’s experience is representative of the many abroad experiences that the Department of Modern and Classical Languages supports, including spring break, May term, and semester-long abroad programs. As can be seen in her words, these trips offer students the possibility of learning in hands-on settings while receiving the support of faculty members in their field.

A flower carpet (alfombra de flores) covers an Antiguan street in preparation for Holy Week. Photo: Cecilia O’Brien ’21

In all, I am thankful to companion these students while they serve, communicate with the local community, and discern their callings. We have started planning for 2019, so let us know if you are interested in serving next year in Magdalena Milpas Alta, Guatemala!

Portraits of Early Graduates | A Reflection on Hope’s Japanese Heritage

Konnichiwa! My name is Andy Nakajima. I teach Japanese at Hope College.

Did you know that the 1/3 of the graduating class of 1879 was Japanese? You may not be able to believe it, but it is true. (Hope College had 6 graduates of that year and 2 of them were Japanese, so technically 1/3!

Hope College has a long history with Japan. Hope’s religious affiliation, the RCA (Reformed Church in America) was the first Protestant denomination which sent missionaries to Japan. Because of the long-standing relationship, Hope has been blessed with many presences of Japanese students since the 1800’s. At one point in the 1800’s, Hope had 12 Japanese students. Historically speaking, that means that Hope College had the highest numbers of Japanese students among liberal arts colleges in the States at that time. Here is the excerpt from the Portraits of Early Graduates about the first two Japanese students, Kimura Kumaji and Oghimi Motoichiro.

Hope’s first two Japanese students: Oghimi Motoichiro (left) and Kimura Kumaji (right)

“Kumaji Kimura was born in 1845 in Kyoto, Japan, and came to the United States to pursue his education after the fall of Tokugawa Shogunate. He arrived in San Francisco in late 1870 and made his way to New York, where he was introduced to Hope’s first president, Dr. Philip Phelps, who was on the East Coast to raise funds. Upon learning that Kimura had no sponsors or means of staying in the United States, Phelps offered to take responsibility for him.

Motoichiro Oghimi, born in Tokyo, Japan, also sought to acquire an education with Kimura, traveling in the same boat from Yokohama. Like Kimura, he had no firm plans or funding. Phelps, Kimura, and Oghimi took the train to Albany, and from there, the two Japanese students traveled to Holland. The two Japanese men lived with Phelps and his family in Van Vleck Hall while polishing their English skills. By the fall of that year, their language acquisition was sufficient enough that both were enrolled in the preparatory school and were later promoted to the college.

The influence of Dr. Phelps and his family went beyond providing a home and securing an education for the students. In a letter to Phelps’ daughter some years later, Oghimi wrote, “My sole object of going to America was to study something that would give me distinction and honor in my future career. This worldly ambition made me decidedly disinclined towards religion, but, since I came to Holland, I was struck with the happy state of the Christian homes, something I had never found in Japan. At last, I came to the conclusion that Christianity was what made them so different from others. I began to study the Bible more earnestly.”

On June 1, 1872, both Oghimi and Kimura were baptized at Hope Church by the Rev. Abel Scott.

The conversion to Christianity and the influence of a Christian education impacted the work of both men. Following their 1879 graduation from Hope (both delivered addresses during the graduation ceremony), they went to New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey and graduated in 1882. Following ordination to the ministry, both returned to Japan to serve the church there, first as missionaries, and later as pastors of the indigenous church.

Kimura served local congregations, including the church in Nagano. He and his wife and brother founded Meiji Women’s School, a school for women in Tokyo, with funds raised among Japanese Christians. Kimura also founded Komoro Gijuku School in Nagano. He died in 1927.

Oghimi served as a pastor and teacher, as well as a lecturer at Union Seminary and the principal of Steele Academy in Nagasaki. He taught at the Methodist Protestant Theological Seminary in Nagoya and was the author of the first Greek-Japanese lexicon. He died in December of 1941 at the age of 97.”

In the Martha Miller Center rotunda, the portraits of Kimura and Ogimi hang on the wall. I hope you have a chance to see them and think about the journey they took 150 years ago! (Attached is the picture of Kimura and Oghimi.)

Reflecting on Faculty-Student Collaborative Research at the Library of Congress

Hope Students: Sara Plohetski and Brian Molhoek conduct research (with Prof. Andre) at the Library of Congress with the purpose of creating a digital map showcasing the myriad of ways in which three of the most culturally productive Latin American cities are interpreted and represented in contemporary literature, music, and visual arts.

Last Fall 2016, students Sara Plohetski (Spanish Ed.), Brian Molhoek (Sociology/Spanish) and I applied for a library Library of Congress Faculty Student Research grant with the purpose of creating a digital map showcasing the myriad of ways in which three of the most culturally productive Latin American cities –Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and Rio de Janeiro– are interpreted and represented in contemporary literature, music, and visual arts (1950-2000).   This is a long-term project that will developed and expanded throughout the fall of 2017 and spring semesters of 2018 in the Advanced Composition classes and Latin American Studies classes.

Some of the questions we were seeking to address were:

  • How do people perceive and imagine a community or a city through art and literature?
  • How do cities impact people and their cultural production?
  • How do people impact the city in which they live through the culture they produce?
  • How do race, gender, and class influence the cultural perception and production of a city? (For example, do men and women perceive and represent the city in different ways? How do upper and lower classes portray the city?)
  • How do politics and economy affect the cultural production of citizens?
  • What neighborhoods, spaces, icons of the city seem to be more attractive for artists and writers, and why?
  • The impact of art in city gentrification: how does art influence the development of specific areas of a city?


At the library, our team explored and consulted an ample variety of sources, ranging from art and literature books (poetry, essays, and novels), academic journals, newspapers, manuscripts, to prints, photos, and written music, focusing on these three Latin American cities and their corresponding cultural production.  Of special interest were the encyclopedias and reference resources from the Hispanic Reading Room, where we mostly gathered the bibliographical information that was later used to locate the books at the library.

The most valuable research tool was the library’s database through which we could access a vast amount of journals and publications in electronic format.  By browsing articles and bibliographies related to the artistic production in different cities, we were able to compile a long listing of texts that later on we requested from the library’s catalogue and that were easily available.

Through the analysis of the data collected at LOC, we have been able to continue to trace the historical, political and economic reasons why the different generations choose to represent the city they way they do and through the media they use, and respond to some of the questions listed above relating to race, gender, and class. These are basically the major themes and points we expect to emphasize in a written project based on our research.

Furthermore, we shared this experience with two research groups from the American University in Paris, France, and Forman College in Pakistan, institutions that are also members of the Great Lakes College Association consortia.  In addition to our research, the three teams were able to visit the different reading rooms, collaborate with librarians in the research process, and have access to materials and documents not accessible to the public.  Hope students, for example, were able to hold the first Spanish language dictionary written in 1611 by Sebastián de Covarrubias.

In my academic career, I have had the opportunity to conduct research in many libraries worldwide; yet, our experience at the Library of Congress was intellectually and academically rewarding; the staff was extremely knowledgeable, the space was magnificent, and the collections unparalleled.  Even if one is not a researcher, the Library of Congress in Washington DC is worth visiting for it’s history and it’s architectural splendor.



Looking Back on my Semester in Shanghai

Contributed by Titus Theis (’19)

Shanghai as one of the world’s fastest changing metropolitan has not only broadened my world view but also given me the opportunity to observe the clashing and merging of Easter and Western cultures. The completion of Disney Land in Shanghai signifies China’s increasing openness toward western entertainments, it also allowed me to buy two tickets for only half the price comparing to the States.

Fudan University is undoubtedly the university of the elites. As one the top tier universities in China, I felt the competition and the pressure both inside and outside of the classrooms. It was absolutely the best environment for my studies though, because it challenged and motivated me to become a better student.

One the best perks of studying abroad in China was the food and the convenience of the QR code method of paying bills. Authentic Chinese food has never let me down, there was always something new waiting me to try. And the QR code method of  Wechat pay and Alipay have become a norm in china and transactions take seconds to complete


China is rapidly changing, and I’m glad I was able to have the opportunity to refresh of views of this emerging world power.

Long Weekend in Ronda!

Reposted from ‘Caitlin’s Travel Adventures’ May Term | Malaga, Spain

I had the most amazing weekend! It felt good to get away from class for a little while and see more of Spain! On Thursday morning we left early to take the bus to a small mountaintop city called Ronda. Although it was a place I’d never heard of before, I was curious to see what it had to offer.

After a short-ish bus ride,  the first place we went was the Plaza de Toros. This is the oldest bullring in Spain made entirely of stone. I didn’t expect to stay for too long because how much is there to really see in an old circle stadium with a dirt floor? However, we stayed for quite some time just sitting and absorbing everything around us. We people-watched, took pictures, and even ate our sandwiches up in the seats. While I was munchin’ on my ham and cheese on white, I thought about all the crowds that had sat in those seats before me. I don’t think it had really sunk in until that moment how old of a building we were sitting in, but those curved walls have stories to tell of many bullfights past.

Once we had gotten our fill of the Plaza de Toros, we walked right onto Ronda’s biggest attraction. Puente Nuevo is the bridge in Ronda that connects the town across the approximately 390 ft. deep Tajo Gorge. It is an amazing architectural feat! I honestly cannot figure out how they built something so challenging. No picture that I took truly shows how high up the town sits, but peering over the edge was chilling. As we were looking down at sudden death, we noticed the river that runs through the gorge. One of my friends wondered aloud if we could somehow get down to the bottom, and she was answered by a perfect stranger who just happened to speak English. The nice man told us that if we visited the Palacio del Rey Moro (Palace of the Moorish King), we could hike the stairs down the Secret Mine and get to the bottom of the gorge.

That was too cool of an offer to pass up, so we thanked the man for eavesdropping, and we were off to the next adventure. Let’s put get one thing on the record, my body is not made for stairs. First of all, I have a million and one muscle/alignment issues. Second, my lungs get mad at me when I move too much, too quickly (thank you, asthma). Despite these clearly obvious reasons that I probably shouldn’t have climbed down 231 stone steps with a heavy backpack, I did anyways. Once we got down there, the serenity of the river and beautiful rocks of the gorge made me forget about my 231 step journey back to civilization, but not for long. The climb back up, although brisk, was slightly more difficult than the trip down. I did find myself needing to use the trusty old inhaler back up at the top, but that’s what it’s for, right?. In hindsight, I’m definitely glad I went down because who knows if I’ll ever be in Ronda again.

For the remainder of the day before catching a bus to Seville, we re-energized with some food, walked around the cheesy Ronda gift shops, and tried to get to the best picture-taking spot of the bridge. Instead, we found our path blocked by a film crew for the American TV series “Berlin Station.” Even though I was slightly disappointed by the fact that I wouldn’t get “the” picture of Ronda’s bridge, I think it was God’s way of telling me that I had done enough hiking for the day. With a tired body and a phone full of amazing pictures, I climbed into the bus and immediately fell asleep. Day 1 of Long Weekend with No Supervision: Success!



Reflections on a Semester in Taipei

Contributed by Nathaniel Nelson (’17)
In the spring of 2016, I spent a semester studying Mandarin Chinese in Taipei, Taiwan.  Before going, I was nervous and apprehensive, because I had forgotten so much of the language, and I was unsure how I would adapt to this completely foreign culture.  But I was put at ease upon arriving, as CIEE welcomed me in and made the transition smooth and effective. I spent my mornings in class, and afternoons exploring the city and looking at art museums for an elective.  Night life was also a huge attraction, and the area around Taipei 101, one of the world’s tallest buildings, was always brimming with activity.
With CIEE, I participated in several team-bonding activities that included traveling to all the best locations in Taiwan.  We explored temples and churches and shrines, took road trips to Tainan in the south, and attended a Holi festival, where colored paint splattered the scene.
I made friends that will last a lifetime, and a network that spans the globe.  I had classmates from Thailand, Turkey, El Salvador, and Malta, just to name a few.  One of the things that struck me was how far-reaching US politics truly is: I’ve always known that what happens in our country affects the world, but it’s another matter entirely seeing it in real life.  Everyone was following our election, and everyone had strong opinions about what should happen.  I felt incredibly blessed to take part in this international community, and I will treasure the time I had in Taipei for years to come.