International Student Stories Martha Bartchy
Global Recruiter Story
Four years ago, I found myself being incredibly excited as I ran through the house to announce to my parents that I had just received my maroon “Westmont said Yes” envelope. I often love thinking back to that moment which leads me to reflect on how I got here in the first place and how my experiences at Westmont have helped me grow an incredible amount.
For the first thirteen years of my life you could find me growing up as a shy little girl in Munich, Germany, who had been born to a German mother and an American father. Life as I knew it was very much dependent on my family’s involvement in the Catholic Church, which comes of no surprise since Bavaria is deeply rooted in the Catholic lifestyle. My parents had decided that the minute I was born I should be raised bilingual and bicultural. I grew up visiting the States a few times and listening to my dad’s stories where he swooned about his beloved time at Westmont back in the days of 1986.
The reality of my family’s life in Germany was very challenging. We belonged to a Catholic Community that had been founded after World War II, in hopes of offering a place particularly to young people where the occurred horrors could openly be discussed. The focus lay on living a Christian life together that included working together in youth groups, adult bible courses, retreat weekends, schools, hotels, banks, and outreach programs to African countries. My parents had grown very fond of this way of life and decided to raise a family engulfed in this community. It became our tradition to pray and sing before bed time. Our work, school, or leisurely activities were all interconnected to this community. The initial joy at such commitment was overturned when we realized year after year, what kind of traumatic control, restraint, and unfair treatment was actually pushed upon my family. By living in such a community, one would think that working together and listening to each other would be a key element. However, that did not end up being the case at all. The community controlled my parents by instructing them how to live, how to behave at work, and even how to raise their children. My parents protected me well until I found out about this much later. The most harmful impact was that I was never allowed to just be me. Ever since I was born, other people had practically run my life for me. Who I really wanted to be was of no interest to the community. I found myself struggling greatly once my family decided to cut their final ties to the community and escaped to California where my dad had grown up. Here, I encountered a new life full of freedom, yet also of drastic change.
People often ask themselves how they can get closer to God or even communicate with Him. My way of being close with God is through deep trust and listening. God has provided many opportunities in my life where I felt extreme comfort and peace when thinking about and approaching them. When I first came to visit Westmont, I finally understood what all the rage was about. I immediately knew this would be the place for me not just because of the wonderful music program and Christian way of approaching life and education together, but also because I felt a huge sense of belonging and God given peace about this place.
Even though my experiences had left a deep scar in my heart, I felt spiritually convinced that I was not yet meant to give up on being Catholic. God helped me to see that being faithful meant so much more than this one bad experience in Germany. When coming to Westmont I first found myself in a place that was strange to me. People around me would pray out loud together or would worship God with a band in chapel. I was quite adamant about staying distant at first, because according to my experiences with German Catholicism, worship and connections to God were meant to be of a private and personal matter.
By being open minded I learned, however, that here I could learn about new things without having to give up who I was and what I believed in. Deciding to try new things lead me to actually start appreciating a chapel band lead worship with my friends. I was able to flourish greatly at Westmont because I let God lead me to see the beauty of experiencing new things, even though they were different from anything I had known before.
My sophomore year, God called me to journey alongside the Westmont in Jerusalem study abroad team, which led me to travel through Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and Egypt. One of the most outstanding experiences I had during this time was when we visited the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, all because I followed God’s call to let Westmont take me abroad to the Middle East. Even though the church is not catholic, I was pleasantly surprised that there was a place where I could light a candle in memory of my great grandma who has been my greatest role model in faith. When we descended into the cave where Jesus had been born, I could not believe what I heard. A small group of Catholics accompanied by a priest where surrounding an altar in the cave and singing “Salve Regina”, which is a Latin song Catholics like to sing to adore Mary. This exact song, my family and I had sung every night before bed time in Germany and I had never heard it sung since my time there.
During my time at Westmont, instead of feeling alienated by solely personal and Catholic experiences as the one above, I found myself being offered a place of love and acceptance in this community that did not focus on my differences. Once I let them, people wanted to get to know me, talk to me, be my friend and learn about Catholicism by coming to mass with me. In turn, people taught me what it is like to be Protestant. I used these experiences to shape my own way of looking at my faith as a now young adult. I would not be the person I am today and think of Westmont as the perfect place for me if I had not been so willing to take an open-minded chance. Westmont has helped to challenge me in all the right ways, allowing me to simply be the growing and curious woman that I am today.