How Passage paved the way for cross-cultural hospitality
Words: Eliana Chow ’21
Ari Escareño ’25
Freshman Ari Escareño thought Wheaton would be a typical, Midwestern liberal arts college where everyone looked alike and held similar views of the world. Yet on her first day participating in the wilderness track of Passage, the orientation program of Wheaton College for incoming freshmen, she found quite the opposite to be true.
Between stargazing in canoes at 4:00 a.m., hiking with professors, and scaling cliff sides, the program created ample opportunities for her to practice her newfound freedom and forge valuable connections with professors and eight other freshmen in her group, who represented a diverse set of cultural backgrounds and church experiences. Cultivating friendships with people from Indonesia to Morocco to Ecuador, Escareño’s time in Passage reshaped how she would approach her first year as an undergraduate. “Almost every conversation centered around how we each saw the world and our faith in slightly different ways,” she said. “Those interactions opened my mind to how the Lord is working all around the world, and how he brought us all to this common space at Wheaton.”
Growing up with bicultural, Mexican American roots, Escareño was excited to see how the Lord would use that background to open doors at Wheaton to other non-majority students. “I have always struggled to bridge these two cultures that are a key part of my identity,” she elaborated. “But at Wheaton, I have met so many people who are wrestling with similar questions about different aspects of their identity, whether racial, sexual, spiritual, or vocational. It is a great comfort to know we can work through these things together through a scriptural lens, united in our common salvation in Jesus.”
Now, serving on the student-led Orientation Committee that will welcome the incoming Class of 2026, Escareño remains on the lookout for ways to extend hospitality to prospective and new students, their families, and visiting alumni. She also engages with other student groups on campus to collaborate on planning welcome events and hosting prospective students when they visit campus. “No matter what student group I collaborate with, I see the diversity of the Kingdom,” she said.
That diversity is not limited to racial or ethnic diversity, she clarified, though historically underrepresented racial minorities are growing in population on campus. Escareño regularly interacts with students who have just become Christians as well as those who are part of multigenerational Christian families. She shares meals with missionary kids from all four corners of the world and students from across the U.S. “When I’m on Wheaton’s campus, I don’t feel like I’m stuck in a typical Midwestern landscape,” Escareño reflected. “Instead, I feel like I can jump into different perspectives and parts of the world depending on who I’m with or what class I’m attending.”
Looking ahead, Escareño is eager to apply her passion for cross-cultural relations to her academic and student leadership career at Wheaton. She plans to declare international relations and communication majors, alongside a minor in business, with her sights set on working in the non-profit and fundraising space. She also hopes to become a small group leader for Discipleship Ministries, opening another door to serve her peers and engage with their stories. “Wheaton is a place where you can develop as a whole person, not a robot whose only goal is to get a job after college,” she concluded. “No matter what you choose to study, or which organizations you participate in, this is a community that sees your potential and is ready to grow with you along that journey. I’m so excited to welcome the next round of freshmen with the same Wheaton hospitality I encountered throughout my own Passage Orientation experience.”
When I’m on Wheaton’s campus, I don’t feel like I’m stuck in a typical Midwestern landscape. Instead, I feel like I can jump into different perspectives and parts of the world depending on who I’m with or what class I’m attending.