It’s been nearly a year since I got back from Ecuador, and I still think about it practically daily.

I’ve done a lot in my four years here at Goshen, but I found SST unquestionably the most impactful experience. I have so much I want to say about it, and I just don’t know where to start. I could talk about the language barrier, which was super difficult at times (such as when I thought my host mom was screaming at me “HOLD ON” to a half-ton cow dragging me face-first through a field, when she was actually saying “LET GO!!”), but which also made me realize firsthand how difficult it must be to come to a new country without a complete mastery of the language — much less the fundamentals.

I could talk about my host families: how special it was to be welcomed into someone’s home, and to genuinely feel like I had a new set of parents, who I loved, and who loved me.

I could talk about the new friends I made: not only my classmates, but my coworkers and neighbors. My best friend from Service made me a playlist when I left Ecuador, and I still listen to it.

But with all these stories, emotions, memories — SST is an incredible experience, and I can’t do it justice. 

So I’m not going to try. 

Instead, I want to share some opinions about the academic part of SST.

Throughout our time, we were asked to write journal entries. In retrospect, I love these assignments. Sure, it’s annoying to take a few hours and write when you’re trying to spend time with your host family, but they became an opportunity for reflection and introspection — and I really appreciate going back and reading them.

But I want to ask the school to reconsider what we do after we return to campus.

SST Capstone, a required two-credit class after completing the term, is a fantastic idea. People from multiple different units all meet together and debrief or discuss their experiences. It’s a really lovely setting, and could have been a great way to process my time abroad.

If we had sat around and shared stories and thoughts once a week, maybe alongside writing some reflections, that would have been fantastic. Instead, we filled out busy-work assignments and sat around for much of the time in class.

Some of the assignments had nothing to do with my time in Ecuador; while a four-page worksheet on advocacy or an “identity map” is great, it also feels like a high school assignment and doesn’t really connect to my time in Ecuador. Some of them did connect, but I also was — and am — still processing my experience; it wasn’t helpful to analyze everything I was asked to.

But my biggest issue with Capstone was that it was simply frustrating. It was frustrating to complete the assignments, it was frustrating that I wasn’t able to talk through what I wanted to — and because I found it so frustrating, I found negative associations forming with SST. It’s really unfortunate; I love what I learned on SST, but if I’m thinking about it mostly when I’m doing busy work, it becomes mundane.

I don’t want to just complain. SST was one of the greatest — if not the very best — parts of college, and I think the program is legitimately the biggest strength of Goshen College. But as the program continues to evolve, I strongly, strongly urge the school to reconsider how we process and discuss this incredible experience.

Daniel James, a senior history major from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, is executive editor of The Record. “For the Record” is a weekly editorial.