On Mar. 26, the Global Engagement Office made the decision to cancel the fall 2021 China SST unit. It’s the second year Goshen College has delayed their longest running SST unit, run consecutively since 1980. 

Jan Bender Shetler, director of global engagement, said that GC has been in conversation with their partner institution, China West Normal University (CWNU) in Nanchong, Sichuan Province. 

“We have been talking to them through emails and Zoom conversations since last year when it was cancelled,” she said. “Certainly more intensely in the fall and again in the spring. They kept thinking that things would open up.”

“It came about by factors entirely beyond our control,” Shetler said. “[China is] a government which can make authoritarian decisions at any moment. [CWNU] got no indication that things will be opening up with US student visas, or any student visas for that matter.” 

China’s travel restrictions are stricter than previous years due to COVID-19. According to the New York Times, international travelers are expected to quarantine two weeks before travel, and two weeks more in China at a government facility. Travelers are also required to take a Chinese-produced COVID-19 vaccine, none of which have been approved in the United States. 

“China right now is not giving out student visas. In fact, it’s not giving visas to any foreigners to come in,” Shetler explained. 

International students studying in China have protested the restrictions, according to the New York Times. Thirteen thousand students petitioned Beijing to allow them to return, along with a social media campaign using the hashtag #TakeUsBackToChina. 

The restrictions, Shetler said, are due to China being extra cautious that their COVID-19 cases do not spike, in part so the 2022 Winter Olympics set to take place in Beijing can still happen. 

Due to COVID-19 concerns, visas are becoming harder to get. 

“For [China,] there would be other visa categories that they would open sooner,” Shetler said. “To bring in students is not their highest priority.” 

The Global Engagement Office self-imposed a March deadline to determine if the China SST unit could move forward. With the uncertainty of China’s reopening and visa access, they informed the 10 students signed up that the unit was cancelled so they could begin making new plans.

Shetler hopes that students can return to China soon. 

“[China] is a country that is very significant in the world right now, and has very large cultural differences from the United States,” she said. “It’s important to understand that culture and understand China for all kinds of careers and ways that people are involved going forward. But for us and SST, it’s not about the relationship to the country, to the government.” 

“It’s not the government-to-government relationship that’s important, it’s people-to-people, strong relationships with host families.” Shetler said that service placements for China SST are always teaching English, where they build relationships with students. “Those are the relationships that change people’s outlooks on the world.” 

Axel Brown, a sophomore biology and secondary education double major, was excited about the teaching service. “Getting into an education setting [on the other side of the world] would be an eye-opening experience,” he said.

Brown was sad to learn of the cancellation, but said that, “I had left it sort of up in the air in my mind to not get my hopes up to much.” 

Students who have had to change their plans are still able to go on SST in the fall. Shetler and the Global Engagement Office met with students individually to discuss options. 

Some students are signed up for SST units in Indonesia, Senegal and Ecuador. One student opted into this year’s domestic SST on the Hopi and Navajo reservations, filling the last slot available, while another is planning to go to India. 

Brown is signed up to go to Senegal next year. “I’m most worried about lasting impacts of the pandemic that could cause cancellations or serious impacts on the SST experience,” he said. 

“Seeing as that’s only a year away, and, in China’s case, we weren’t able to get student visas,” Brown said. “I have some worry in my mind that we won’t be able to go … given how things appear to be going with the pandemic. But I am hopeful.”