BY JOE SPRINGER ’80, Curator, Mennonite Historical Library
BY SEPTEMBER 1968 — when the first Study-Service Term groups departed Goshen — the student body had been testing the waters of international exposure for over two decades. Faculty and young alumni helped staff post- World War II relief efforts in Europe. Soon there were regular opportunities to spend summers in a mix of educational travel and service camps working alongside youth from other countries.
Collaborating with other Mennonite colleges, GC began developing opportunities in other parts of the world — including Latin America. In 1964, Professor of Chemistry Henry Weaver scouted Caribbean and Central American locations for what became a partial prototype for SST. Settling on El Salvador as a “relatively unspoiled country, not geared to tourism,” he noted that nationals seemed eager to teach U.S. students about the country.
That summer, Spanish and history professors, Verna ’28 and Willard Smith ’28, assisted by future Spanish professor, Robert Yoder ’62, led an eight-week seminar with an interdisciplinary group of 15 students (five from Goshen). All 18 packed into a van and a station wagon to make the overland trek through Mexico and Guatemala to El Salvador. (A wad of chewing gum kept a gas tank leak from slowing them down.) On arrival in San Salvador, students — most without much Spanish language training — were immersed in host families themselves ignorant of English. Like SST, students had a wide variety of lectures by national experts. Excursions to coffee plantations, volcanoes and ruins were part of the experience, but there was no service component.