(Above) 1964 El Salvador Seminar leaders/ participants, together with unidentified non-GC students/program personnel: (seated at left) Willard Smith ’28, Gary Weaver ’65, then seated next to each other Barbara Aeschliman Johnson ’66 and Ross Rhodes ’65; (standing at left) Verna Graber Smith ’28 and Robert L. Yoder ’62 (second male). Goshen College students not pictured: Jon Byler ’66 and Ken Brubaker ’65. The Smiths later led an SST unit in Honduras. Yoder, together with his wife Dorothy, led three SST units in Honduras, one in China and one in Indonesia. (Image from the Goshen College Archives)

Before there was SST…

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.