Last Wednesday, 15 students departed for their Study Service Term in Quito, Ecuador. On Jan. 25, 10 more students will head to Philadelphia as part of an adapted cross cultural experience focused on immersion in Indonesian culture both in the United States and abroad.  Both groups have been forced to adapt to changes posed by the ever-evolving coronavirus.  

The prevalence of the virus became apparent for the group heading to Ecuador when test shortages and changed airplane schedules threatened to affect their travel plans.  

Even as the students boarded their first flight toward Quito, there was still uncertainty about their connecting flight.

After a long day of travel, the group arrived as planned in the capital city of Quito, where they met up with leaders Caleb and Nina Longenecker Fox. The students completed their orientation in the following days and moved in with their host families this past weekend.

The group headed to Philadelphia originally planned on traveling to Indonesia for their cross-cultural experience, but had to change plans as COVID-19 numbers rose globally in recent months.  

According to Jan Bender Shetler, director of international education, the SST office realized a few months ago that Indonesia was limiting visas to only 19 countries that had low COVID-19 case rates, and the United States was not included. 

At that point, the solution was to push back the departure by two weeks to see if visas might be available, but as that date drew nearer and case numbers rose, the SST office was forced to get creative.  

The group, led by John and Ruth Mischler, will now live with Indonesian host families in Philadelphia, work through the TapRoot program and learn about connections between an immigrant community and Indonesia. The TapRoot program is run by the Philadelphia Praise Center, which is an Indonesian Mennonite Church. The students will also be learning language remotely from Indonesian and American speakers. 

At the beginning of March, the students hope to travel to Indonesia or Thailand for the remainder of their time, if they can get visas. Thailand presents a good alternate option for the Indonesia group due to a shorter quarantine period, and most importantly, the fact that they allow visitors from the United States. 

“It is stressful not to know where we will be in six weeks,” said Caroline Robling-Greist, a junior in the group.  However, she is grateful that the students were included in the conversation about revisions and that their input was a key part of the final decision.

“Everyone going on SST learns the skills of flexibility and adaptability to circumstances we can’t control,” said Bender Shetler. That is especially true this year. 

Robling-Greist said she is “ready to be flexible,” and looks forward to “experiencing Indonesia[n] culture … whether it’s in Philly, Indonesia or Thailand!”