Goshen College study abroad program to return to Nicaragua, after 30 years

GOSHEN, Ind. – Goshen College will return to Nicaragua as a location for its unique study abroad program, Study-Service Term (SST), after 30 years in the summer of 2008, according to Director of International Education Tom Meyers. In 1978, the college stopped sending students to the Central American country because it was experiencing great civil unrest that would result in 12 years of war and a devastated economy.

Associate Professor of Chemistry Doug and wife Maria Schirch will be the first group leaders, accompanied by their three children Jessica, Juni and Joshua. Doug spent 15 years in Nicaragua, including 10 years as a college chemistry professor, and Maria is Nicaraguan. “Doug and Maria will be excellent first leaders to revive the program in Nicaragua,” said Meyers.

“It is exciting to think about going back,” Doug said. “When I was there in the 1980s, during the war, I imagined that Nicaragua would be a perfect SST location again someday once the war was over. It is a beautiful landscape of mountains, rain forests, unspoiled beaches and warm and friendly people. It is one of the best places for students to have a safe experience in a developing country with a unique history. Students will have an authentic Latin American experience there.”

Goshen College initially sent students to Nicaragua in 1968, but stopped in 1972 because of a massive earthquake, resumed several years later and then in 1978 ended the program because of civil unrest. During those years, 190 students studied and served in the country. It was a very successful program and “we are always open to returning to a country we have been to before,” said Meyers. “I have heard from students who went to Nicaragua years ago on SST who are excited about us returning there.”

When the college recently decided to stop sending students to the Dominican Republic for SST after 20-plus years – with this summer’s unit being the last – Meyers began looking for a new Spanish-language location. “Although we had a wonderful program in the Dominican Republic, we don’t want to wear out our welcome in any country,” Meyers said. The college will also continue offering Spanish-language SST in Perú, though it will send students there year-round and only send students to Nicaragua during the summers.

The SST groups to Nicaragua will spend the first six weeks in a city outside of the capital of Managua for their language study, but will make several trips into the capital. Students will then be placed in service assignments around the country during the second half of the term. Students will live with host families during both their study and service portions of SST, including living with Roman Catholics who make up the majority of Nicaraguans and with Evangelicals who are a growing minority.

Nicaragua is located in Central America between Costa Rica and Honduras, and is slightly smaller than the state of New York. Students will hear from speakers about the country’s culture and history. They will go on field trips, including to places that were directly affected, on both sides, by the war during the 1980s. They will also appreciate the country’s rich biodiversity, rain and cloud forests, active and inactive volcanoes and undeveloped beaches. Tourism is the fastest growing industry in the country, though it is still smaller than tourism in other Central American countries.

The Somoza dictatorship ruled the country for much of the 20th century. The socialist Sandinistas led a popular revolution that defeated Somoza and took power in July 1979. From 1980 to 1990 was the war between the U.S.-backed Contras and the ruling Sandanistas. “There was a big exodus of people during the war, but many came back after it was over,” Doug said.

Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America and the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Distribution of income is one of the most unequal on the globe. “The economy hasn’t recovered from the war yet,” Doug said. “One of the things that surprises people is that despite the U.S. involvement in the last 100 years – a military occupation, support of the Somoza dictatorship and sponsoring the unpopular Contra War – the Nicaraguan people are very welcoming of visitors from the United States, even the families who have lost relatives in one of those armed conflicts.”

Since the war ended in 1990, Nicaragua has been governed peacefully. “The overwhelming feeling among people is that they are glad the war is over. It made everybody poor and nobody is better off because of it,” said Doug. “Even though life is still difficult in Nicaragua, the national consensus is that continued fighting would be detrimental to everyone.”

In 2006, the former Sandanista president Daniel Ortega was again elected to the position. “Although there was a great deal of fear that Nicaragua would again become unstable with the reelection of Daniel Ortega, there is no evidence that has happened,” Meyers said. “Nicaragua continues to be a stable society with very little evidence of civil unrest.”

Since the first SST units went to Costa Rica, Jamaica and Guadeloupe in 1968 and began one of the country’s unique international education programs, nearly 7,000 students and 230 faculty leaders have traveled to 20 countries; the college currently organizes SST units to study and serve in China, Germany, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Senegal, Perú and Jamaica. The program’s uncommon combination of cultural education and service-learning remains a core part of the general education program, and has earned citations for excellence from U.S.News & World Report, Peterson’s Study Abroad and Smart Parents Guide to College, the John Templeton Foundation and American Council on Education.

For more information about Goshen’s SST program, as well as photos, journals and videos from past groups, visit www.goshen.edu/sst.

Editors: For more information about this release, to arrange an interview or request a photo, contact Goshen College News Bureau Director Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or jodihb@goshen.edu.


Goshen College, established in 1894, is a four-year residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, “Colleges of Distinction,” “Making a Difference College Guide” and U.S.News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” edition, which named Goshen a “least debt college.” Visit www.goshen.edu.