Finding ground in the study abroad reverie

Dona Park

Staff Writer

dpark@goshen.edu

Kate Stoltzfus served in Ayacucho, Peru with Luz y Vida Children’s Program in a before- and after-school program. Photo contributed by Kate Stoltzfus.

Kate Stoltzfus served in Ayacucho, Peru with Luz y Vida Children’s Program in a before- and after-school program.
Photo contributed by Kate Stoltzfus.

“Here I felt like I was all eyes, seeing scenes in swatches of color I was unable to interpret.”

-from Tangled Paths, an SST stories submission by Leah Nofziger, ‘94 Goshen College alumna.

Often, when the question “How was your SST?” is asked, it is followed with an uncomfortable smile and a terse reply of “good.” Sometimes the experience is summarized with a generic “I went to Machu Picchu” picture. Goshen College’s Study Service Term creates an immeasurable amount of stories, from studying in Cambodia to serving in Peru.  These experiences can be quite difficult to express and it’s frequently the smaller, more important moments that are not told.

Last June, the phrase “SST Stories Project” started popping up, making rounds in a variety of Goshen College’s social networking mediums. Facilitated by Kate Stoltzfus and Liz Core, 2014 Goshen College graduates, the project is an independent storytelling platform where former and current students can voice their SST experiences. From poems written by poet Julia Kasdorf and essays by Professor Keith Graber Miller, to interviews with SST creators Hank Weaver and Norman Kauffman, the project serves to capture a variety of voices. It is an anthology of experiences, expressing the highs and lows, the joys and frustrations and the in-between moments that are often overlooked.

As students return from SST, it’s not uncommon for them to feel disoriented—or, in Stoltzfus’ words, simply “lost.” Stoltzfus asks SSTers, “How do we begin to process our individual experiences… as we try to figure out how to bring what we learned, what we experienced, who we became, into our lives at home?”

The answer, or at least an option, is to tell stories. “Stories are one of the best ways to connect and to process with one another, to attempt to understand a time that is often so unexplainable,” said Stoltzfus.

“People can connect by reading about the places that they went, share mutual experiences, and compare and contrast the experiences,” said Liz Core, who promotes the project through social media. “You have a crazy experience [during SST] but there’s no place to debrief. SST Stores Project offers an opportunity to tell as many stories of tiny memories as people want to. It’s the little moments.”

Through Facebook, Twitter and the SST Strories Project website, the project has connected with former Goshen students and has published 30 stories. With a diverse group of ages ranging from 20 to 70, the Project has been amassing, slowly but surely, a collection of stories.

“We want the stories to represent a variety of voices from different countries, years, cultures and involvements—both past and present,” said Stoltzfus. “Tell us your adventures, hardships, embarrassments, regrets, your deepest loves.”

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