International Programs

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My daughter's Instagram post on June 3 reads "We never took breaks, only appreciation stops. mount Olympus was almost as amazing as the people I climbed it with!" She is shown on far right with Haley Smith , Kassandra Fetz and Brad Dodick.

My daughter’s Instagram post on June 3 reads “We never took breaks, only appreciation stops. Mount Olympus was almost as amazing as the people I climbed it with!” Becca is shown on far right with Haley Smith, Kassandra Fetz and Brad Dodick.

When your child goes overseas to one of Harding University’s international programs, he or she isn’t the only one learning and experiencing different cultures.

You are, too.

My daughter is studying at Harding’s program in Greece this summer. It is a totally different experience for my wife and for me than it was when our son studied at the Florence, Italy, campus in fall 2011. We didn’t have iPhones in those dark ages. We may have Skyped twice the entire semester, so we felt rather disconnected.

Not this time. We text often, she sends photos anytime, we usually Facetime over the phone once a week, and Instagram and Facebook are providing lots of pictures.

When communicating I just have to keep in mind the eight-hour time difference as she is waking up when I am heading to bed.

One of the best things about this semester in Greece has been that the students write about their trips and take turns emailing the parents, along with sending amazing videos they have made. One of the directors, Loren Beason, is a strong blogger, and her posts on on their recent excursion to Israel have helped keep me so connected, I almost feel that I have been there with them.

As a parent, the initial expense made me wonder whether it was worth it. After seeing posts just a few days into the summer, I had no doubt it was worth every penny. I’m not sure how one puts a price on experiences such as visiting the Holy Land and climbing Mount Olympus. I believe God’s word is now more real to her than it has ever been.

My wife and I discussed on a recent walk that when she returns, she will not be the same person. How could she be? She has seen and experienced so much in such a short time.

This semester is an investment that I believe is and will continue to pay big dividends. While I’m anxious for her return, I am loving the opportunities to share her experiences along the way.

Tom Buterbaugh, editor/designer

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Name: Kendra Stevenson
Classification: Junior
Major: public relations / Spanish minor
Hometown: Dexter, MO
Studying at: HUG

HU: What is your current location?
KS: We are in Rome catching a flight back to Athens after a week of free traveling all over Europe.

HU: What has been the most interesting thing that has happened on your journey so far?
KS: It started on day two in Barcelona. Our next stop was Dublin, and we were catching a flight to London then connecting to Dublin. Our first flight became delayed six hours because the plane was literally broken, and this would cause us to miss our flight from London to Dublin. We had no idea what to do. We had two nights stay, a tour scheduled in Dublin, and our next flight leaving from Dublin. We looked up flights directly to Dublin from Barcelona just to see what came up, and sure enough, there was a flight straight there that didn’t depart until 10:50 p.m. with eight empty seats. God has a good way of showing us He’s really in control and looking out for us. We took off scrambling through the airport to purchase, print and check-in (for the second time) for our flight. We eventually made it on a plane, and we all slept straight through that flight. We arrived in Dublin around 1 a.m., and we could not have been happier. We laugh about it now, but at the time it was complete chaos.

HU: How many pictures do you think you’ve taken as of now?
KS: 2,500 — easily.

HU: What is your favorite photo you’ve taken so far?

KS: It’s so hard to choose a favorite photo from this trip because I have seen so many places that are absolutely beautiful. I’ve also seen so many places that speak to me in such beautiful ways as well. I think this picture best describes the beauty of Greece. This spot is known for the best sunset in Greece. It’s located in Sounio where the Temple of Poseidon is also located. It is definitely the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen, and I try to constantly remind myself how blessed I am to have this opportunity. Whenever God paints pictures for us to enjoy, I try to stop and reflect on my experiences and remember what our overall purpose is in this life. This was one of those opportunities, and I am continually reminded of how great our God really is.

HU: What is the most delicious thing you’ve eaten so far?
KS: Lemon gelato. I cannot get enough.

HU: What are you looking forward to the most about coming back to the U.S.?
KS: Flushing toilet paper

HU: What has this experience studying abroad taught you?
KS: I am not in control of anything. I love knowing what’s going on at all times everywhere we go. I love controlling all the tickets, times, information — everything. But all airports, all train stations, and pretty much everywhere in Europe runs on its own time. I have had to learn to let things go, to trust others in knowing what they are doing, to be more flexible and to roll with the punches, and more importantly to be thankful for this opportunity because so few are able to have it.

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Somewhere over a journey from Atlanta to South Africa. Via Instagram (@ashelparsons)

Somewhere over a journey from Atlanta to South Africa. Via Instagram (@ashelparsons).

My ways are not the only ways. My thoughts are not the only thoughts. My culture is not the only culture.

Those statements become more and more real to me every time I step out of MY little world. I get a slap in the face every time I experience someone else’s world and culture, and I love it. I’m no radical, just an observer of the world, or at least the bits and pieces of the world I am blessed to observe. It’s impossible to view my surroundings without using my eyes, so of course I am going to have my view on things. But the more I allow myself to be open minded, the more I can see. And the more I see, the more I can accept and serve with the hope that my eyes will start to see the way others see.

I have been blessed to travel and experience many different cultures in my life, from the U.S. to South America to Africa to Asia and many places in between. Travel has made me who I am. My desire to grow, learn, and always be pushed out of my comfort zone has been the biggest side effect of travel for me. I can’t always understand what I see or experience, but that’s OK with me. The fact that I can’t helps me broaden my mind and views of the world and the people in it.

Guatemala. Via Instagram (@ashelparsons)

Guatemala. Via Instagram (@ashelparsons)

I never want to be stuck in my growth. I’m not saying I always have to be traveling the world. There is plenty to be learned right where I am, and I know that even better now because of my travel. No matter how different a person or culture is to me, there is one commonality: we all are human. It’s cliche to say, but it’s true. We really do have so much more in common than we might think.

Ashel Parsons, international programs administrator