Students plan alternatives after SST units canceled

Students plan alternatives after SST units canceled

By: Quinn Brenneke

A student puts away his Arabic textbook in class. Photo by Isaac Fast

Students planning to spend study abroad semesters through Goshen College’s Study-Service Term in Morocco during fall 2014 and in Nicaragua during summer 2015 are rearranging their plans after hearing that those options have been canceled.

Tom Meyers, director of international education, visited students preparing for Morocco SST during their prerequisite Arabic class taught by Paul Keim, professor of Bible and religion, on October 24.  Meyers told the class that the SST program in Morocco would be canceled in fall 2014 due to low enrollment.

“Given the college’s precarious financial situation with lower enrollments, we simply can’t afford a unit with only seven students; particularly a unit that runs one time, every other year,” said Meyers. “It had nothing to do with the quality of the program or any other issues. It’s extremely sad to me to see Morocco not be offered next year.”

Additionally, during a meeting of academic advisors yesterday, Meyers announced that the SST program in Nicaragua would be canceled during summer 2015, again citing financial reasons.  Affected students received e-mails from Meyers promptly after the announcement.  Bob Yoder, campus pastor, who planned to lead the unit, was informed of the cancelation last Thursday.

“We just don’t have enough people to fill it up,” said Yoder, who also said he understands that the decision was purely based upon financial reasons.

According to Meyers, only 47 students are signed up go to Spanish-speaking SST countries during the 2014-2015 academic year, which is enough for two SST units.  However, at this point, three units are still being offered in Spanish-speaking countries, even after the cancelation of the Nicaragua unit.  Meyers is hopeful that more students will enroll in the remaining three units, all of which are in Peru.

“Nicaragua is a wonderful location.  We’ve had great programs there.  That’s not the issue,” said Meyers.  “The issue is financial viability.”

Units are offered in Peru every semester, so the extra cost burden of units with few students can be spread among other units.  Meyers cited unit leader apartment costs as one expense that is shared by multiple units.  When SST units go to countries once per year or less, costs like that become more difficult to accommodate by small numbers of students.

“We have a small unit in Peru this fall,” said Meyers.  “In part we can compensate for that because we have a year-long program there.  We don’t need to, in a sense, reinvent the wheel every time.”

Meyers said that the decision to cancel SST units was “not made quickly.”

“It’s an extremely painful decision for me,” said Meyers.

As for the seven students who were previously signed up for the Morocco SST unit, other options are available.

“China is being offered in the fall, they’ve all been given first dibs in getting into that program,” said Meyers.  “They can take Mandarin in May term and then go to China in the fall.”

Those students have also been offered an exception to go to Peru in fall 2014 with only one semester of Spanish, which they can take this spring.  Also, they have the option of signing up for any future units being offered.

“No one to my knowledge has been left dangling because of this situation,” said Meyers.

A second semester of Arabic was planned for this spring semester, and Meyers said that it will still be offered depending upon interest of students.

“We’re going to offer it if students are interested,” he said.  “If there are two, we’re going to offer it.”

Sam Carlson, a sophomore, and Avery Martin, a sophomore, are both currently taking Arabic.  They are the founders of Arabic Club, which previously met every week night to study for the class.  However, the club has not met for about a week.

“It’s because we’ve lost a lot of steam and motivation for the class,” said Martin.

However, Carlson and Martin have the opportunity to use their Arabic knowledge when they travel to Palestine this summer, along with Kiernan Wright, a sophomore.

“We heard about the Goshen Goes to Palestine group that went a few years ago,” said Martin. “We started talking about going last spring.”

Carlson first became inspired to travel to Palestine after meeting Marcelle Al-Zoughbi, a 2013 graduate, during the summer before Carlson’s first year at GC.  Al-Zoughbi, who is from Palestine, told him stories about her home.

Since their initial dreams of traveling to Palestine began last spring, Carlson and Martin have made final plans to take a group of GC students to stay with Al-Zoughbi’s family and volunteer at the Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center this summer.

Carlson and Martin have opened an invitation to travel to Palestine to all interested GC students.  The cost for the trip will be $2,300 (however, Martin is looking into fundraising to offset some of this cost).  Any interested student should contact Carlson before Nov. 28 to reserve a spot with their money.

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