April 8, 2014

Peru SST retreat: Looking back and ahead

After nearly three months of study and service in Peru, Goshen College students had a final opportunity for focused reflection on their experiences and on the joys and potential challenges of returning to the United States. Our concluding gathering was held at a Christian retreat center called Kawai, located on the beach about a 90-minute drive south of Lima. The retreat center consists of a large collection of spacious buildings amid well-landscaped grounds, just a few hundred yards from the Pacific Ocean. It has wide lawns, a nice swimming pool and a broad beach, perfect for long walks and contemplation.

The Peru SST unit for Spring 2014: (front row): April, Maria, Aimee, Gina, Natalie, Malaina, Gretchen and (back row) Jake, Thomas, Dean, Derek, Neal,  Jonathan, Caleb and Jackson.

The Peru SST unit for Spring 2014: (front row): April, Maria, Aimee, Gina, Natalie, Malaina, Gretchen and (back row) Jake, Thomas, Dean, Derek, Neal, Jonathan, Caleb and Jackson.

The three-day retreat is an important step toward helping the students return successfully to their lives in the United States. Students had a chance to reflect on their experiences abroad and put it all in context before the emotional roller coaster of jumping from sad goodbyes in Peru to joyous family reunions back home and a return to normal routines.

Thomas and Dean discuss their service experiences.

Thomas and Dean discuss their service experiences.

On Friday afternoon, students shared stories from their service experiences. All said they enjoyed their service locations – Chancay on the coast, Ayacucho and Tarma in the mountains and San Ramon, La Merced and San Miguel in the central jungle. In some cases, students said they had dream assignments, were kept busy and taxed physically or emotionally. In other cases, students coped with cultural confusion or periods of inactivity and had to learn patience as they tried to find their way in new organizations. A few said they didn’t connect with their host families and were sometimes lonely. Still, they all appreciated the relationships they formed, and are especially thankful for the students with them on service and for their families back home.

Gretchen discusses how Peruvian meals are prepared.

Gretchen discusses how Peruvian meals are prepared.

Saturday morning, the students presented their final projects, which covered a wonderful variety of topics and included a creative element to demonstrate the depth of their understanding. They presented on such subjects as evangelization, Peru’s civil war of the 1980s and 1990s, the education system, folk remedies, the legal profession, jungle food, Andean cosmology, Peruvian food preparation, and farming and music in an indigenous village. Students learned a traditional dance and about a popular TV show and re-enacted a popular carnival activity – tossing water balloons at one another.

Recreating a popular Peruvian TV show, Derek and Aimee compete to see who can stack cups the fastest.

Recreating a popular Peruvian TV show, Derek and Aimee compete to see who can stack cups the fastest.

In the afternoon, students learned about “re-entry shock” – how and why people who travel to other countries often feel sad to leave and struggle to readjust to life back home. Students discussed what they will miss most about Peru, what they won’t miss, how they have changed the past three months and what they are looking forward to the most about returning to the United States. They also had fun participating in role-plays in which they portrayed students coping with unexpected challenges in talking with friends, family and acquaintances about their time in Peru.

Maria, portraying a returning Peru SST student,  talks with Jackson, who played a relative in a role-play exercise.

Maria, portraying a returning Peru SST student, talks with Jackson, who played a relative in a role-play exercise.

Students planned and led our Sunday worship service, which consisted of prayers, inspirational readings, hymns, stories about Peruvians who positively influenced them and how their faith sustained them during SST. One student chose the hymn, “Alleluia, the Great Storm is Over,” which prompted appreciative laughter from the others. She assured them that she wasn’t necessarily referring to SST, but added, “God is with us in good and bad.”

Derek, Malaina, Jake and Aimee join the prayer circle.

Derek, Malaina, Jake and Aimee join the prayer circle.

After worship, students had the opportunity to reflect one last time on their overall experience in Peru – their expectations vs. the reality they experienced, what surprised them most about Peruvians, their highlights and biggest challenges and what they will remember most about SST. Common themes included appreciation for the beauty of Peru and the hospitality of Peruvians. Many said they would remember most the relationships they made with Peruvians and within the SST unit.

Students sing a hymn during the Sunday worship service.

Students sing a hymn during the Sunday worship service.

Throughout our time students dealt with their bittersweet feelings of sadness for being together as a group for the last time and excitement about returning home. As had been previously noted in this blog, this was an especially close SST group. Men and women spent their class breaks together, usually gathered in a circle deep in conversation. They enjoyed being together after class and on weekends. And when they returned from service, they had a joyous reunion.

Students await their final meal at the retreat.

Students await their final meal at the retreat.

Still, students were ready to conclude their time in Peru and ready to rejoin family, friends and familiar patterns of study, work and play. They even expressed excitement about returning to the decidedly cooler weather of the Midwest. SST Peru Co-Directors Richard Aguirre and Judy Weaver felt very fortunate for the opportunity to guide Aimee, April, Caleb, Dean, Derek, Gina, Gretchen, Jackson, Jake, Jonathan, Malaina, Maria, Natalie, Neal and Thomas during their successful Study-Service Terms in Peru. We will miss them.

 

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