Right now, I should be preparing for a summer in Senegal: filling out forms requiring me to boil down my interests to three adjectives and learning about batik and thieboudienne (Senegalese textiles and food, respectively). Instead, I’m watching my peers do these things, while I sit in French 102, learning a language for a trip I won’t be participating in.
SST was one of the main reasons I chose Goshen College. I’d eagerly anticipated studying abroad since middle school and Goshen’s program offered something unique. Yet here I am, watching friends come and go on the experience of a lifetime — that cornerstone of the Goshen curriculum, while I reluctantly take on-campus alternatives.
The issue lies in the relative inaccessibility of a program that’s all-but-required. As amazing as SST is, the college makes it difficult for many students to participate and resources are not focused on high-quality alternatives.
When I signed up for Senegal, I figured the summer would be a perfect time to go; I wouldn’t miss a sports season or any classes. Everything was set, until I discovered fall of my first- year how much summer SST costs. This hadn’t been communicated to me prior to registration.
Summer SST counts as an extra semester of study. This means that if regular scholarships and grants are used, those funds won’t be available second semester senior year, as students can only receive most aid for eight semesters.
I started looking for other options, but kept running into roadblocks. I couldn’t graduate a semester early because of certain required classes not being offered until senior year – not to mention missing a season of track. I couldn’t go during the school year and make up classes in an extra semester – that still leaves me at nine semesters. No matter how I tried to rework it (and believe me, I looked at everything), SST just wasn’t going to happen.
When I crunched the numbers one last time and then officially dropped Senegal SST this fall, I was devastated. The entire framework of my college plan had shifted. Oftentimes, people who choose SST Alternative aren’t choosing it because they want to, but because they have to. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that if we could go, we would. I was incredibly disappointed to drop SST and I still am.
That being said, new opportunities have arisen for me, such as Literature in London this May.
However, I still feel like I’m missing out on what makes Goshen special. How am I supposed to be a global citizen without the opportunity to live and work in a developing nation?
So here’s the deal. Two things need to happen: SST must become more accessible and resources need to be directed towards raising the standards for alternative courses.
Regarding accessibility, it’s no secret that summer is the most convenient time to go. I expect this to cost extra as it is an extension of the school year. However, students are expected to pay significantly more than they do for a regular semester (in my case, it would’ve been more than double). And in addition to costing more, summer SST means 12 weeks during which a student can’t work.
A solution is to make alternative funding opportunities available by doing the following: provide students with resources to apply for outside scholarships; communicate more effectively the upfront and hidden costs of SST; work out potential alternatives from the start.
As far as on campus alternatives go, aside from May term trips, they generally aren’t very exciting or challenging. Perhaps this is ideal for some, but personally, if I’m not going to get the opportunity to push my boundaries abroad I want to do it here.
Goshen is full of cultural diversity; why not create an SST alternative course that connects students directly with community members? Our campus is home to an array of different ethnic backgrounds; why can’t we work with groups like ISC to provide a more enriching cultural experience? We have the resources — let’s use them.
My point in all this is that for something so integral to the Goshen experience, it’s incredibly difficult for many students to participate.
SST is an absolutely remarkable opportunity and I feel that every student should have a chance to experience what it brings, whether that be more intercultural offerings on-campus or by finding ways to make off-campus programs more accessible.