Goshen College’s Study-Service Term (SST) is a unique part of this institution; unlike most study abroad programs, SST is rooted in service and academia in the context of exclusively developing countries.One of the most-attended SST locations is Peru.
The Peru term has been offered since 2005, and started with the help of Dean Rhodes, a former GC Spanish professor. Now, unlike other SST locations, the Peru term runs every semester and over the summer.
For the first six weeks of the program, students are placed with host families in Lima, the capital of Peru, where they study the Spanish language and Peruvian history. After those first six weeks come to a close, students depart for service assignments scattered throughout the rich landscape. During each half, students are pushed to new levels in their language capability.
“I felt extremely pleased when I was able to actually speak and understand Spanish when I came back to my host family in Lima after service,” said junior Hans Miller, who went to Peru in the summer of 2017. “That is when I was able to realize that my Spanish had improved that much.”
Some students go into the term already fluent in Spanish, like senior Karina Palos.
“Spanish was my first language,” said Palos, “But ever since I started learning English and being reinforced to speak English, I adapted to speaking English more than Spanish. Also, just because Peruvians mainly speak Spanish, they have a have totally different culture which should not be clumped together with ‘hispanics’ and/or Mexicans. This was evident as I learned new Spanish sayings and phrases, jokes, and traditions. I also learned some Quechua words during service, since my host mom spoke Quechua a lot.”
The total immersion the program facilitates comes with challenges, and some degree of culture shock is inevitable, but the adjustment process can leave students more mature and open-minded.
“The most challenging aspect for me was dealing with uncomfortable situations (i.e. hearing people make statements that I didn’t agree with or that offended me),” said senior Maddy Garber. “But in the end those uncomfortable situations ended up being the most rewarding part because they are what helped me grow the most by challenging me.”
In service locations, students are pushed to work in new environments, learning from their host families and the community around them.
“I lived at about 10,500 feet up in the Andes on service, so I was able to hike in the mountains almost every day,” said Miller. “I enjoyed hiking the most with my host dad, Aldolfo, who was about 65 years old. However, he would never just hike for fun. So, during my last week in Caraybamba, my dad and I woke up at 3 in the morning to hike the nearest mountain called Apu Marca set at 15,000 feet. We reached the top at about 8:00 a.m.; exhausted, I collapsed on a rock. However, Aldolfo was looking around for something. He walked over to a tree, took out a hatchet from is backpack and began chopping wood. He ended up gathering a pile of sticks for him to carry down and I was left with the 10-15 foot group of branches to carry. The energy for carrying the lumber down the mountain came from my thoughts of ‘If Aldolfo can do it, I can.’”
A vital part of the support system for students is the leaders of the SST units. The most recent unit was led by professors Doug Schirch and Maria Sanchez Schirch. The couple led SST twice in Nicaragua, but this was their first time to lead the Peru term. Much like for the students, SST leaders have no small or easy role. However, also like the students, the rewards of the experience can oftentimes come from the most challenging moments. Schirch recounts a difficult situation that resulted in new growth:
“On a 5 hour trip back from an overnight trip, with one student in a leg cast from an unfortunate medical emergency, our bus broke down and stranded us by the side of the road in the cold and wind. All 15 students joined in a group hug to stay warm. Alternative transportation home later got us stuck in massive traffic jams, adding hours to the trip and leaving us hungry with no supper. For the trip’s last leg we got on a double-decker tourist bus with an open roof, which was pretty cool. Despite having a dozen reasons to be grouchy, the students broke into song on the open-air bus floor, moving their feet and arms to traditional Peruvian dances they had recently learned in a lecture, and all as we passed under stop lights, street lights, and office buildings in downtown Lima. That was a golden moment.”
The upcoming Peru term will be led by professor Pat Lehman, who has led SST twice before in Jamaica, along with Sylvia Shirk, previously a GC campus pastor.
Throughout the years and ever-changing leadership and student body, the Peru SST unit retains its impact.
“They’re not the same students at the end,” said Schirch. “They’ve weathered many obstacles, learned how to function outside their comfort zones, and became more self-confident of their many abilities.