UMF Students Experience Spiritual Renewal after a Fall Retreat

UMF Students Experience Spiritual Renewal after a Fall Retreat

By Haiyu Zheng – Contributing Writer


Seven UMF InterVarsity Christian Fellowship members were refreshed both physically and spiritually after a three-day fall retreat in Toah Nipi Retreat and Training Center in New Hampshire. Including students from 13 other campuses in Northern New England, there were over 100 students attending this fall conference.

Students attending the UMF InterVarsity in fall conference. (Back row, l to r: Haiyu Zheng, Darci Goslin, Jacob Marcoux, Ben Daly-LaBelle, Abdi Hassan, Lillian Hunt) (front row, l to r: Armando Jaku, Yamah Dolo and Lindsay Marcoux)
Photo Courtesy of Jacob Marcoux

   For Christians, a retreat is a quintessential time away from daily activities which distract them from going deeper in their faith and spending time getting reacquainted with God. Combined with conferences and activities, it offers people a quiet place to find peace and experience renewal.

   The woods outside and the woody décor inside, along with little lights hanging on the wall, created a relaxing atmosphere. In the biggest meeting room of Toah Nipi Hebron, students from different cultural backgrounds converged to worship God in one voice and pray earnestly for each other as a community. Their faith affirmed the beauty of the unity beyond all ethnicity in Christ.  

   With the theme of “Hope and Healing in a Broken world: Find a way forward,” powerful testimonies and sermons were shared by different speakers, followed by small group discussions and prayer time. The reflection gave students encouragement and inspiration, leaving them with a new perspective in their walk with Christ.

   UMF freshman Lillian Hunt found strength and hope in other people’s stories.“It made me feel like more comforted to know that I’m not alone and there are a bunch of people going through what I’m going through,” she said.

   Annie Ahn, a sophomore from Colby College noted that the “silent time” with God was another indispensable part of this retreat.

   “I really enjoyed the silent time when I spent an hour and a half away from the noise just concentrating on reflecting on God and talking to Him individually.” Taking a sip of coffee, Ahn smiled, the overflowing joy in her heart written all over her face.

   Ahn was not the only person who felt reenergized during the silent time. Toah Nipi provides students numerous areas to sit, wander and pray. Scattering in different directions, some students chose to stay in their room reading the Bible, some sat at the picnic table outside praying while enjoying an incredible view of surrounding hills, and some lay on the grass meditating in the pleasant fall weather.

   In addition to the spiritual growth, recreation including sports, boating and board games also provided students with chances to make friends across schools and get to know people from their own schools better.

   Jake Marcoux, the leader of UMF InterVarsity group, expressed his willingness to include everyone in the group no matter what background they come from.

   “We have to relate to people in the group differently, to be intuitive and think about what they are thinking about, such as someone who came from International settings or someone who’s not a believer, ”said Marcoux.

   InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is an interdenominational, evangelical Christian campus ministry founded in 1941, working with students and faculty on U.S. college and university campuses. Retreats and mission trips are held all year round.

   There will be a Serve-Up trip intended to help with the recovery effort in places that were affected by the hurricane during spring break next year. More information can be found on InterVarsity website at:

My First Corn Maze Experience: Wicked Fun!

My First Corn Maze Experience: Wicked Fun!

By Haiyu Zheng -Contributing Writer


   When the view of ten acres of cornfield finally came into sight as we drove, my friends and I started feeling thrilled about heading out to the field with excitement and an adrenaline rush.

   I was a little bit overwhelmed when standing in front of the massive landscape with piles of brown plants filled with ripening ears of corn. Looking up at these huge rippling stalks, I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh, they are wicked tall.” This was my first experience of seeing a corn maze in person. It reminded me of the crop circle that I saw in a documentary when I was in China, before I came to UMF.

   That Sunday afternoon, instead of dying while doing my homework, I decided to have an adventure at the corn maze at the Sandy River Farm on Farmington Falls Road with UMF senior Elina Shapiro, and Chinese instructor Hui Shao.

From L to R: Haiyu Zheng, Elina E. Shapiro, and Hui Shao at the Sandy River Corn Maze.
(Photo by Hui Shao)

   Sandy River Farm is a vast fascinating landscape that consists of 600 acres of land in pastures, hayland, and rows of crops as well as approximately 1000 acres of forest land. The corn maze named “Amazing Maize” is held on the field south of the farm. In addition to the maze, the farm also offers a pumpkin patch and a “Cow Train” ride for kids.

   The first thing we noticed was the tower near the entrance of the maze. Visitors could go upstairs on a staircase ascending to the top of a tower to perceive the entire farm.

   Shapiro commented that “the view was as far as you could see and pretty much any direction you looked there was corn.” Surprised, she raised her voice and said, “even behind me I saw corn.”

   After that, we finally started our journey.

   I honestly didn’t know what I expected in the beginning, so I think I made a lot of stupid suggestions.

  “I’ve heard a theory that you can go out very quickly if you chose the same direction every time you have to make a choice,” I said. “Like you just stay to the right side.” I was as confident as a professional.

   After the first few minutes, we found that we were back to the same spot we started from, which meant we didn’t go anywhere.

   This time I changed the strategy. I picked some corn up off the ground and made signs with them. I thought I was pretty smart.

  A few minutes later, I heard Shao’s voice. “Oh, no! I think we’ve been here before!” Yes, we got lost in the circular trails created by these tall plants.

   “What if we cannot find the way out?” Shao asked. Well, this was a good question.

   One of the things that I was hyper-aware of was how confusing it was. After failing so many times, I realized that I was probably not a “puzzle” person so I totally gave up and let my friends lead me to whichever direction they thought fit.  

   We came across several families with distinctive, interesting approaches. Many families enjoyed getting lost in the maze. One family said  quite casually, “we were just wandering.” Another used their Google map to direct their way, and one just enjoyed playing with their kids while they were walking.

   Shapiro suggested taking on the philosophy of wandering instead of being nervous about figuring out which way to go. We all thought that was a good idea, so we ended up following the family using the Google map. (Technology is good.)

   I remember how excited we were when making a significant breakthrough of going through the intermediate part of the maze. As the maze went on, we passed through the paths more easily when we found that there were signs of numbers placing strategically throughout the maze. In another twenty minutes, we found the exit!

   I couldn’t believe we made it! We celebrated our victory by taking a lot of selfies with a werewolf statue at the exit, which was also near the entrance.  

   Before leaving, we had a short tour exploring the other parts of the farm. Walking through a sea of pumpkins of all kinds of shapes, we got on a truck that took us to a place with some animals. I approached a goat and pet his fuzzy head. Embraced by the unexpected natural grace, I forgot all the clutter and clatter of life in this bright, breezy Sunday afternoon. It was an awesome trip.

   There will be a haunted maze going at the end of October. It freaks me out when thinking about encountering creepy clowns or vampires who suddenly pop out of a corner. But for students who have a resilient heart, more information can be found on the Sandy River Farm’s Facebook page.


International Students Adjust to American Life at UMF

International Students Adjust to American Life at UMF

Haiyu Zheng – Contributing Writer

UMF International students are doing a better job in adjusting to American campus life, despite various cultural differences for the first few weeks.

From L to R: Haiyu Zheng, Hui Shao, Clementine Leroy, Mana Abdi, Kasi Pratt, Cheyenne VanDooren, Pauline Barrier, Prescilia Ganache, and Elisa Ducept.
(Photo Courtesy of Cheyenne VanDooren)

The 14 international students/staff members initially had a hard time dealing with the differences in terms of the food, study, and lifestyle. In these 14, there are three language assistants, two staff members, seven exchange students and two J-1 students (International students study here for a degree).

These new members of the UMF community hail from various locations including France, Japan, China, Canada, Tanzania, and Argentina.

Chinese student Wenyi Lu became emotional after recalling an experience where she ran into financial issues.

“I almost wanted to cry when I found my bank account did not work here,” she said. “That was literally my hardest time since I came here.”

“There is a gap between my life in France and here,” said Prescilia Ganache, a French TA. “Everything is so different. The food, our thought patterns, even the way we dress,” she said. She recalled her initial shock when she found students wearing sandals and socks together. “In France, we always dress very formal,” Ganache said.

For some international students, the biggest adjustment has been the American food.

“They have more fat, sugar, and salt in food here compared to what I am used to,” said Clementine Leroy, another French TA. “Also, there are so many spices. I feel frustrated when I get something spicy by accident,” she said.

“I’m glad they try to make International foods that cater to us,” said Yuewei Zhang, a junior from China. “Even if they are fully Americanized.”

Academics were another concern for the International students. They found it hard to get involved in the class discussion. Clementine Gondo-Lescaillet, an International student from France, said that she was so stressed out about her marketing class.

“There were a lot of times when I came up with some ideas but it was too late to share due to my broken English,” she said.

Despite the difficulties, the International students have a positive mind towards the challenges and are trying to enjoy the life and find the beauty of this university.

“I appreciate the relationship between the students and professors,” said Asako Miyazaki, the Japanese instructor. She was surprised to find out the students are very casual in class.

“In Japan, students tend to be polite and always bow every time we see someone who’s older than us,” she said.

Kesuma Mkare, a freshman from Tanzania, said “American students do more sports than the students in my country. I like the idea that everyone wants to try something new.” Mkare was very happy to join the soccer team in UMF. “I got to meet a lot of people and made friends who care about me,” he said.

The International students also get sufficient support from UMF students and faculties.

Leroy was impressed by people’s hospitality. “The people all around the campus are always so friendly. If you have questions, you just go and ask them for help and you could always get more than what you expect,” she said.

The advisor of International Department Lynne Eustis put much effort in helping her students settle in during the orientation week.

“We prior to help them get ready for school life before other students arrive and get to know each other as a group so that they have an immediate network of support from friends, and also get some time to get familiar with the campus, the local downtown area,” Eustis said.   

Stephen Riitano, a CA of Mallett Hall, also has a goal to help the International students adjust to the campus life more easily through some programs with them. “I am trying to be as open and inviting as possible,” said Riitano. “We like to invite the residents to come down and talk about some differences in the cuisine or anything interesting about their countries,” he said.