In 1968, Goshen College launched the groundbreaking Study-Service Term (SST). 50 years, nearly 8,000 students and 24 countries later, the college is celebrating the program’s landmark anniversary with another pioneering step in international education — reevaluation. In an academic year guided by the core value of “global citizenship,” the 50th reunion of SST will bring both celebration and assessment.

Consistently ranked as one of the top study-abroad programs in the country, SST seeks to provide a transformative experience for Goshen students, placing them in developing nations rather than typical study-abroad locations. Unique attributes of the program, such as placement with host families, often in a major city and then in the countryside, allow students to be completely immersed in a different culture.

This year, Goshen College will host a number of events in honor of SST. Kicking off everything will be the SST search conference, occurring September 14-16 at the Amigo Centre in Michigan. This conference will bring together a diverse group of 38 students and faculty representing a variety from campus roles for an intensive weekend of re-assessment regarding the SST and SST Alternative programs.

The conference process will be guided by Davydd Greenwood, P.h.D., an anthropologist from Cornell University who has led numerous search conferences for organizations in the past.

“We decided, in addition to celebrating, we are really going to look hard at our program,” said Jan Bender Shetler, professor of history and coordinator of the conference. “It’s a new era, our students are different and the world is not the same.”

Shetler noted that the conference will seek to address what has changed and how the college must adapt going forward to make SST and SST Alternative courses engaging and accessible.

Ethan Lapp, a junior who will be attending the conference, hopes the conference will help to make some important revisions to the SST program, including providing students with more resources to make going abroad a feasible option and increasing the safety within each term.

“The history of this program is amazing. But even with a half-century of amazing experiences, there has also been a half-century of students not getting what they need, whether that is financial support to participate or emotional support while in-country,” said Lapp. “SST is not a perfect program and hopefully this search conference will identify the biggest problem areas so that more students can have a better term abroad.”

One of the goals of the conference is to create a handful of task forces that will follow up on particular issues for revision. These task forces will present their findings and recommendations at an on-campus academic conference in the spring and invite the broader campus community to get involved.

“The priority of the SST anniversary year is assessment: what the program is like and how it can be better, how it can adapt to the times,” Shetler said.

There will also be time for celebration of the program this year. Homecoming weekend, October 5-7, will include a number of presentations to serve as tributes to SST, as well as a report on the search conference. For example, at a special convocation on Friday morning of that weekend, the Culture for Service and Alumni Servant Leadership awards will feature alumni who have strong ties to SST. The winners — David Reimer ‘84, Patricia Ebersole-Zweir ‘76 and Jes Buller ‘08 —  all were chosen “for the significant intercultural work they do,” said Dan Koop Liechty, international student advisor and coordinator of the alumni awards.  

In March, the Good Library Gallery will open an exhibit featuring items people have brought home from SST. The exhibit will include stories about the objects and explore what those objects say about a culture, as well as what people took away from their experiences on SST.

Goshen College believes that all students should, and can, become cross-cultural and culturally competent people who can cross boundaries with empathy. The international education requirements serve as a means to accomplish this. However, as SST reaches a milestone anniversary, the college is not only recognizing past accomplishments, but looking ahead to adapt intercultural programs to the changing needs of the Goshen College student body.

“A lot of what we are doing is looking forward: Where are we going?” Shetler said. “You’ve got to keep moving.”