Since his first trip to Europe in 1984 with Hesston College, music professor Ken Rodgers hasn’t missed a single tour. Almost 34 years later, Europe is a second home to Rodgers. In fact, if you add together all his trips, Rodgers has spent more than three years in Europe. Now he’s an expert.
“Once I hit in Europe, I’m just going,” he said. “For me, I’m very comfortable there, I know what’s going to happen, I know the people, and I know what to expect.”
After his first trip to Europe as a student at Hesston College, Rodgers was asked to fill in for the accompanist two years later when he was a senior at Goshen College. By the next trip to Europe, he was on faculty at Hesston. Every other summer, the choirs at Hesston College combine to create the International Chorale. Rodgers accompanies the choir on piano and organ and also has a role in planning the tour. That means he gets a front row seat to student experiences.
“One of the things that I really enjoy is being able to watch students engage with people from another country and another language and to try new foods,” he said.
Overall, they are often more willing to try new things like food, sights, or hostels, he said.
“College students just have an energy and an excitement that I just think is wonderful,” Rodgers said. “The thing I love about traveling with college students as opposed to older adults is that they are so much more flexible.”
Although the many tours bring him to different places every time, one of the most anticipated stops for Rodgers is the one he has gone to every time: Joure, Netherlands.
“That has been a staple of where we go every time, and they look forward to hosting us,” he said. “There’s a long tradition of connection there.”
The Netherlands has been special for Rodgers because he connects with multiple people each time he visits. Those friends inspired him to learn Dutch.
“When I would be at their home, there would be eight Dutch people there, and I was the only native English speaker. And they would be speaking English to accommodate me. I hated that! So I really really pushed to begin to learn Dutch.”
Learning languages is another passion of Rodgers. He works daily to improve his German, Dutch, and French using the app Duolingo, which is required for all students in International Chorale.
When in Europe, Rodgers has particular foods he finds every time. One of which is a “stroopwafel,” a warm, thin wafer with caramel in the middle. Another is a Dutch speciality known as “vla,” which is a pudding you pour out of a carton.
On top of friends and food, Rodgers says trips like these help remove cultural blinders.
“We tend to think the way we do things is the correct way to do things,” he said. “I hope students are open to new ways of thinking and new ways of doing things. I think it’s just good to understand that we’re part of a larger, global community and to be open to those kinds of things.”