catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 19 :: 2003.10.10 — 2003.10.23


Emphasizing global citizenship

I've often regretted not doing any overseas study as part of my undergraduate program. Whether it was fear of the unknown, reluctance to be away from my family for an extended period of time, or the fact that everything in my immediate environment was always so academically stimulating, I?m not sure. But I might get a second chance.

My husband is enrolled full time right now at Goshen College, a Mennonite university in Goshen, Indiana, that requires some sort of cross-cultural study and service experience from every student. We've been tossing around all kinds of ways to fulfill this requirement together, from going to Nicaragua to witness first-hand the process of growing and marketing fair trade coffee to visiting some friends involved with Navajo mission work in New Mexico. The possibilities are endless and I'm excited to see how such an experience would change us as so many others have been changed by intensive cross-cultural work. I'm also grateful that the value Goshen places on this type of experience will hopefully afford me such an opportunity.

The following is from an e-mail interview with Tom Meyers, the director of Goshen's Study-Service Term (SST) program in which he explores the Mennonite philosophy of service and the reasons for the SST requirement.

What are the general requirements for Study-Service Term? Could you give me a general overview of the program, including where students go, how long they stay, what they do while they're on SST, history of the program, etc.?

Students must have a year of college level language prep. They also participate in orientation sessions on campus prior to departure. The SST program began in 1968. Since then over 6500 students have gone abroad. The program grows out of a number of factors. More than half the faculty at that time had lived abroad, many of them had been in Europe doing reconstruction work after the Second World War. They knew first hand how important it is to see the world, themselves, and their country of origin from another's point of view.

At the heart of Mennonite theology is discipleship. To be a follower of Christ is to serve human need wherever it may be found. Thus it was natural for us to create a program where half the term is spent doing some form of service. The 60s were also a time when the 'ugly American' was seen every evening on the nightly news. We wanted to send students abroad to be a witness to something other than militarism, hedonism and the accumulation of the world's resources.

The pattern of most SST locations is [for students to] live with a host family in a major city for half the term. Days include language study, lectures on literature, music, history, economics, etc. by local university faculty and field trips to important historical and cultural sites. The second half of the term the student moves to a smaller town or village in the interior of the country where the student works in a clinic, school, mission program, and a variety of other settings. They live with a second family in the interior.

What are the goals of the SST program? Why does Goshen College require SST?

Unlike many international education programs, we have intentionally stayed away from a university based Western European emphasis. Students live with families and we have intentionally said from the beginning that the culture must be significantly different than North America. Thus, nearly all of our locations have been in the third world.

We are committed to exposing all of our students to idea of global citizenship and some sense of mutuality and interdependence among the world communities.

How do you think the SST experience affects graduates of Goshen?

Many, many students rethink majors, career decisions. Some opt for additional service. My own daughter went to China in the late 90s as an SST student. As soon as she graduated she went back to teach English at a university in Beijing for two years as a volunteer with Mennonite Central Committee. I suspect she will be somehow connected with China for the rest of her life. That is not an unusual story.

What do you think the goal of Christians should be as they engage in intentional work in foreign countries? How can this work deepen faith and one's understanding of God?

I have seen the power of this program in students' lives. I have led eight groups in the Caribbean and West Africa and many have an encounter with faith that is profoundly moving. In Africa, in particular, there are people whose faith has been unshaken by the Western scientific mindset. They have no question about the reality of the divine. The powers of good and evil are very real to them and the faith that they exemplify has profoundly touched our students.

Our goal is to be compassionate learners—to work along side people, to live with them and to listen to them. SST should never be a one-way street; students give, but they receive far more than they receive. The greatest gift they can give to their host families is to be gracious listeners, to enter as much as possible into people's lives and to try to understand their
point of view.

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