While many students headed home for the summer, 31 Goshen College students jumped on planes to Dakar, Senegal, and Lima, Peru, last May for a summer abroad.For Tom Meyers, Director of International Education and leader of the Senegal Study-Service Term unit, the eight-student group tied for the smallest group he’d ever led.
“It was great,” Meyers said. “A small group can be problematic, but it can also be very helpful. In this case, the group got along great.”
Conversely, the Peru unit was composed of 23 students.
Anne Buckwalter, Naomi Peters and Spencer Aeschliman, all seniors at Goshen College, were among those on the summer units. Despite their different group sizes and locations, all three students highlighted their homestays when recounting their favorite SST memories.
“I lived with a pastor on service, and it was a really close-knit family,” Buckwalter said of her time in Peru. “We did everything together. I remember one of the first nights I was in there, me and my sister rode into town on her motorcycle and got ice cream and talked for hours.”
Buckwalter, who described herself as a “go, go go” personality, said that her difficulties speaking Spanish provided perhaps the biggest gift of SST.
“I just sat with [my sister] and mostly listened for hours,” said Buckwalter. “Not often do we stop and listen to other people, and I think those situations are kind of special.”
Peters, who spent the summer in Senegal, noted the language study as among her favorite parts of the SST program. She said that learning Wolof, a prominent local language, showed her host families and others that she was willing to put in an effort to understand their culture.
“It made them so happy,” she said.
Despite studying both French and Wolof, Peters said that music was the language that brought her closest with her host family.
“I had two younger host sisters, and I’d oftentimes be in my bedroom, shuffling my playlist, when ‘Little Do You Know’ by Alex and Sierra would come on.” she said. “They’d come running in and we’d dance and sing before cuddling and laughing in bed.”
“Everybody was so kind and welcoming,” Peters continued. “That’s the thing that was made clear to us time and time again: people were happy to have us there.”
Aeschliman, who also spent the summer in Senegal, thought back to a moment where he felt totally welcomed in an unfamiliar situation.
“I was living with a Muslim family and I was invited to a naming ceremony for my sister’s new baby,” he said. “Ben [Meyer Reimer] lived in my neighborhood and he came along and we sat in a room crowded with exclusively older men. I felt so out of place.”
The mother came in with the baby, sitting right in front of the pair of Americans. The ceremony started and lasted a long time, said Aeschliman.
When it was over, “the new father came up to us and expressed to us how happy he was that we were there,” Aeschliman said.
Aeschliman had been looking forward to these SST experiences ever since before he began attending Goshen College.
“While you’re studying at Goshen, you will hear people talk about how awesome SST was or hear them get excited because they are getting ready to go with their group,” he said. “It was amazing to finally experience that for myself.”
Aeschliman lamented that the cost of the summer SST – up to $19,675 for full-time students – prevents many Goshen College students from doing the same.
“I remember at the beginning of the year, the Moodle group was 15 or 16 students. I don’t feel like Goshen really communicated the cost to us as well as they should have.”
He said that cost was likely a big reason so many people dropped out of his unit and that the price limits many groups of students from going on SST.
Neither Buckwalter nor Peters would have been able to fit a fall or spring SST into their academic schedules.
“I couldn’t afford to take a semester off,” said Peters.
All three students hope that, in the near future, Goshen College might work to find a way to make summer SST a more viable option for students. The 50th anniversary SST search conference will take place the weekend of Sept. 14, and will seek to address concerns such as the cost and accessibility of Goshen College’s signature program.