For four OBU representatives, a summer cross-cultural endeavor presented a unique opportunity: to show North African students that not all college-age Americans behave like reality TV stars.
"The main point of our trip was culture exchange," said Abby Fuller, a senior nursing major from Gainesville, Texas. "So much of what the people there think of Americans comes from television shows and movies. I've been asked before if my life was similar to 'Jersey Shore.' So most of our goals there were to break down social barriers and form friendships."
Fuller was joined on the May 23-June 13 North Africa venture by Kim Powell, a senior biblical languages and anthropology major from Oklahoma City; Caleb Sanders, a 2013 graduate from Checotah, Okla., with a bachelor's degree in education; and Katy Mohr, OBU's varsity lacrosse coach and the team's sponsor.
For the group, the region reflected what they expected to find: a mountain and desert land dotted with cacti, palm trees and olive groves, overlaid by an Islamic culture where members of the older generation are seen dressed conservatively, riding donkeys and carrying water to their farms. But the team also encountered change occurring with the younger generation, as indicated by women and men dressed in current fashions driving motorcycles to college.
The team was scheduled for various tasks, including teaching, working with a sports camp and visiting the Berber people. But the primary purpose was to build relationships with host students and to seek opportunities to share their lives and their Christian faith with those students.
Powell said she felt God leading her to go on the trip after she worked with North African Muslims in France last summer. Her greatest joy on the trip came during a visit to the mountains where -- despite a total language barrier -- she felt connected to a family.
"Some of the women in the family are sisters, and even though we couldn't communicate in words, there definitely was a connection made, and I felt an overwhelming compassion and gentleness towards them," she said. "I thought about their family a lot the next two weeks, and then we went to visit them again towards the end (of the trip)."
"Just becoming acquainted with their family and feeling like I was so accepted there when they barely knew me was the most rewarding."
Coming from the American culture where "time is money," the team encountered the challenge of operating with the North Africans' concept of time and distance, sometimes waiting hours for scheduled meetings or events.
"Adapting to how relative time is in this part of the world was very challenging," Powell said. "However, I find that I appreciate the challenge because it slows me down. … Going so fast and being so caught up in being on time leads to missed opportunities and shallow thoughts, actions and relationships. Sometimes, I just had to remind myself to calm down and be flexible, to focus on where I am rather than where I think I should be."
As a "third-culture kid" -- a student who grew up overseas -- Fuller was acquainted with the region. During this trip, she discovered an opportunity to put her nursing education to action with a women's coalition conducting a clinic.
"We did many things such as blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugars and more," said Fuller, who found ample opportunity to listen to women's problems and offer basic advice. "It was great to see my nursing practices that I have been studying so hard for be able to be put in use."
The team was one of 12 cross-cultural trips sent during the summer from OBU's Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach (GO Center). Each year, OBU's Global Outreach Trips provide an opportunity for dozens of students, faculty and staff to experience other cultures and, when possible, share a Gospel message.
Even while laying groundwork for possible future trips, team members said they believe the experience was valuable, and they encouraged fellow classmates to take advantage of the cross-cultural opportunities offered at OBU.
"Going on a GO Trip doesn't mean you will spend your life overseas, though it may lead there," Powell said. "Students need to take this opportunity to go and see the rest of the world that God has made, and engage in it: experience different cultures and learn about yourself, your country, and your culture from a different perspective. Just being a Christian in a different culture has taught me so much more about myself, God, and what practical faith is supposed to look like."
For more information, visit the OBU GO Center Web page.