Lounging on your couch, scrolling through the photo dump of Greek island vacations and double-decker bus shots, it probably felt like everyone and their mother went abroad this summer—and, you wouldn’t be far from the truth. But among the selfies from Paris and Colosseum pictures from Rome were 144 Wheaton students, putting their academic studies into practice with college international programs in international destinations.
From Stonehenge to the Western Wall, Wheaton students in seven distinct programs traveled the world with fellow students and professors. They dove deep into their host cultures, related them to their academic disciplines and returned to campus with stories to tell.
Below, students share their experiences.
WHEATON IN SPAIN
James Hensley, a junior Spanish and biblical and theological studies major, lived in Spain as a student and missionary through his time with Wheaton in Spain, a program offered every other year by the classical & modern languages department as an opportunity for cultural and linguistic immersion. This summer’s trip was split into two halves: touring Spain and studying in Salamanca, and working with missionaries on the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, a network of pilgrims’ paths that lead to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great.
During the first part of the trip, Wheaton in Spain students visited castles, explored cities and tried local food.
“We tried paella, which is rice with chicken or pork, and boccadia sandwiches,” Hensley said.
When they weren’t touring, the Wheaton in Spain students studied with native Spanish speakers in Salamanca and stayed with local host families, who were coordinated through the Didactica de Lengua Espanola (DILE Program), which is an international language school in Salamanca.
Hensley stayed with his host mother, Juani (“a very gentle woman and incredible cook”), three other male Wheaton students, and a female student from New York studying medical Spanish.
“You wake up, get a piece of bread for breakfast, go to class, come home and your señora would make you lunch,” Hensley said.
Hensley said his host mom was taken aback by the amount of food he and his friends ate. “She was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’ve never met people like you before. I can’t believe you can eat this much,’” Hensley said.
During the second part of the trip, Hensley worked with missionaries who gave pilgrims a place to stay during their journey to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great. Despite living in a village of just 100 locals, Hensley met people from all over the world as they passed through.
“We had a daily schedule of prayer and work and then we would invite people in and they could experience Jesus,” Hensley said. “Just that simple.”
Throughout his time with the missionaries, Hensley said he experienced God’s goodness and presence as he evangelized and served hikers.
One German hiker, Peter, asked Hensley how he met Jesus and listened intently to his testimony. When Hensley finished, the man said, “I think I’ve spent my whole life chasing money. I wanted to study philosophy or theology at the university, but I studied economics because I love money.”
He continued, “I feel like I’m in a hamster wheel and I can’t get out because of this love of money.”
In response, Hensley shared about the many parables of rich men in the Bible.
“And I said, ‘Really, you’re an economist, and the kingdom of God is an economic decision,’” Hensley said. “Which do you value more? If there is a God, which is more valuable? Everything you spend your life doing or a relationship with him?”
Peter responded, “If there is a God, a relationship with him.”
Hensley said he experienced many similarly powerful moments. “Many of the hikers are there for a spiritual experience,” he said. “They’re excited for Christian things and some of them really catch a glimpse of Jesus.”
Scott De Haas, a senior political science and philosophy major, recently returned from a trip to Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland with the Wheaton Center for Faith, Politics and Economics in June.
De Haas chose the Nordic program due to the influence of David Iglesias, who directs the Center for Faith, Politics, and Economics. Iglesias emphasized the fact that the Nordic countries rank at the top of the world’s metrics for happiest countries, best living conditions and best work-life balance.
“I was curious as to what these countries are doing right, what’s different about their balance and whether their economic systems are transferable to the United States and how so,” De Haas said.
He said he grew significantly in his ability to work through those multi-layered questions during conversations with economic leaders, political figures and native Danes, Swedes, Norwegians and Finns. In addition, he stumbled upon something he didn’t expect: anti-immigration sentiment.
“It did seem a little bit like the whole immigration issue was the hidden underbelly of the Nordics in that the people there were like, ‘Yes, we invite everybody in,’ but under the surface, ‘Immigrants do kind of ruin our delicate social structures.’”
“In a tattoo parlor, we had one conversation with someone from Chile named Mark, and essentially we talked about how he had experienced what he deemed as basically internment camps,” De Haas recalled.
When those seeking residency are deemed ineligible to stay in the country, they are typically sent to a camp where they can wait for months at a time to be sent back to their country. During that time they are unable to officially integrate into society. De Haas took Globalization in Nordic Countries with Timothy Taylor, professor of international relations, while on the trip. In that class, Taylor emphasized how immigration is one of the main “problems” facing the Nordic countries.
But the Nordic rhetoric was still not as blatant as one might expect. De Haas remarked that none of the people he met ever specifically told him that they didn’t want immigrants in their country.
“Everyone was always very welcoming, saying, ‘We are a great country, and our hope is to welcome people to take part in the greatness that is our country.’ But, I think that what was a little more telling were conversations that I had with immigrants in those countries. That seemed to tell a different story.”
Addressing students on the fence about the program, De Haas says that it was the best experience he’s had at Wheaton. “It just kind of takes it from having a good college experience to being able to say, ‘I’ve had a good life so far’— to put it as dramatically as I can,” he said.
WHEATON IN THE HOLY LANDS
Samantha Burton, a senior biblical and theological studies major and environmental science minor, attended the Wheaton in the Holy Lands trip because of her interest in environmental theology, a field that studies how the physical environment can inform our understanding of God’s character and his command to steward creation.
When she first arrived in Palestine, Burton, who’s originally from Southern California, said she experienced culture shock.
“During a graffiti tour of the [West Bank] wall in Palestine in the Bethlehem area, we were brought face to face with violence against the Palestinians as we witnessed their art expressing hope and longing for justice,” Burton said.
In comparison to Israelis, Palestinians are largely confined to the Palestine territorial regions, and international travel is more severely restricted.
“Having the ability to travel in and out of Palestine without complications as a tourist was a privilege that all of us in the program experienced,” Burton said. “This privilege brought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a new light and was something that I definetly had to wrestle with throughout our time in Israel.”
Whitney Stanley, a sophomore anthropology major, expressed similar sentiments, noting a conversation in Bethlehem with a Palestinian man.
He spoke about how “he does what he can to protect his family, but just a few months before we came, soldiers had broken into his house thinking he was somebody else and he just had to let them do what they do,” Stanley said. “It’s hard to make blanket statements. There isn’t just one side to a story.”
The trip, led by Dr. George Kalantzis and Dr. David Lauber, was marked by visits to the scenes of biblical settings. The excursion to Galilee in northern Israel was a highlight for Burton. She remembered hikes with sea views, archeological tours of the Magdala stone, the believed birthplace of Mary Magdalene, the house of the apostle Peter and several early churches and synagogues.
“Then we got to spend every evening floating in the sea, taking in the view,” she said.
WHEATON IN ENGLAND
Carmen Covington, a junior English literature and International Relations major, decided to attend Wheaton partially because of the Wheaton in England program. From cheering for the play “Richard the III” in Stratford to exploring the Yorkshire moors, Covington said the experience lived up to her expectations.
“I have a renewed appreciation for what it means to study for the love of what you’re studying,” Covington said.
Reflecting on the funniest moment of the trip, Covington noted the occasionally excessive book-buying habits of the group.
“If you take a bunch of English majors to England and don’t regulate them in bookshops, they’re going to buy a lot of books,” Covington said. “I don’t know the final count, but I came home with around 35, I think.”
With 79 books, another Wheaton in England student needed to buy new bags for the plane ride home. She also had to leave a few behind.
As for favorite locations, Covington enjoyed the house in the Lake District where the Romantic poet William Wordsworth lived.
“He very much wrote about nature and humanity there,” she said. The group also hiked the Stock Ghyll Force waterfall, where the poet John Keats was inspired to write poetry.
“I was like, ‘That’s so cool, Keats and Wordsworth wrote here,’ and then, well, I’m here and it feels like I could write poetry here, too.”