the Goshen College Bulletin | Alumni magazine since 1956

Photo of First Costa Rica SST GroupAfter 33 years of pura vida, GC bids adios to Costa Rica SST, halo and tenaystgllñ to Cuba, Ethiopia

By Andrew Clouse and Ryan Miller
The first Study-Service Term in 1968 to Costa Rica was a special one. Perhaps it was the restless atmosphere of the 1960s. Perhaps it was the excitement of taking Mennonite ideas about service and education international. Perhaps it was the excitement of pioneering a new world. Either way, no one - students, faculty or Costa Rican host parents - knew what to expect. They could not anticipate the relationships that were to bloom.

In early August, 33 years after the first SST students arrived in San José, the final group left the Costa Rican soil carrying friendships, lessons and memories to last a lifetime.

Exciting beginnings
Hess, professor emeritus of communication, and Henry Weaver, professor emeritus of chemistry and provost emeritus, explored Panama, Nicaragua and Costa Rica before selecting the first SST site.

The country's spectacular scenery and friendly hosts impressed the two. "We quickly found helpers for the program," remembered Hess. "The people wanted friendship."

In fact, many families who housed students refused payment. Instead, the college provided many families with a trip to Goshen to experience life in the U.S. - the opportunity of a lifetime for many Ticos.

Hess, who led a record 13 SST units (all in Costa Rica), said many Ticos were unfamiliar with the idea of voluntary service. When the Arenal volcano erupted in 1968, Hess followed "the Mennonite instinct to go have a service project," and sent the students to help.

Photo of Recent Costa Rica SST GrouA time of transformation
"Over the years I found that the international experience as we set it up sooner or later put students into an experience that required transformation," said Hess. "When students faced a challenge, that's when they had to dig deep. I have heard so many stories of the moment of transformation. People say, 'There on SST, something happened to me.'"

The program not only changed Goshen College, but had an impact on Costa Rica as well. "(It) opened (the Costa Ricans') eyes to the world and led to connections in the U.S.," said Wilbur Birky, director of international education.

Humberto Perez-Pancorbo, a Costa Rican contact and two-time visiting professor of Spanish at Goshen, said the Goshen contingent and Costa Ricans shared a similar view on pacifism; Costa Rica is one of the few countries in the world with no standing military.

A sad farewell
Beth Martin Birky, Goshen College associate professor of English and director of the general education program, led the final Costa Rica group with her husband, David, 20 years after experiencing Costa Rica SST as a student. "We didn't do as many lasts as we did firsts," she said. "It was pretty easy to draw new families in and make new connections. ... We're not just regurgitating an experience."

In the end, Goshen College hosted a dinner for some of the most influential Costa Ricans over the last 33 years at a San JosŽ restaurant. The 15 host families of current students also celebrated with a party. An ad was placed in Costa Rica's largest newspaper, La Nación, thanking the country for its warm hospitality.

Unlike most SST units, many of the Costa Rican families regularly housed Goshen College students. Do–a Marta Rodriguez, affectionately known as "Mrs. Goshen," hosted 47 students; one of her daughters kept another 30.

Birky said, "Costa Rica, perhaps more than any other country, owned the program. It was not our program alone - it was their program." Birky said the college encountered no problems in Costa Rica, but needed to explore new settings. Martin Birky hopes to continue to build on Costa Rican relationships, proposing a women's studies program to study the role women play in the Costa Rican government.

¡Cuba vive!
GC taking SST south in 2002

Photo of Cuba LindaUntil recently, the idea of a Christian college beginning a semester-long program in Cuba geared around faith, in-depth cultural study and service seemed highly unlikely, almost ludicrous. Goshen College will change those perspectives by taking its SST to the Caribbean island of Castro and Ché beginning May 2002.

The summer 2002 term also marks Goshen's first foray into East Africa, entering Ethiopia led by Dr. Zenebe Abebe, vice president for multicultural education, who will be returning to his homeland.

Working through the Cuban Council of Churches, and licensed by the U.S. Department of Treasury and Cuban Bureau of Religious Affairs, Carlos Romero, vice president for student life and dean of students, and his wife, Celina, will lead a select group of 23 students in the first unit.

Students will spend six weeks studying in Havana through the Martin Luther King Center of Havana, William Carey Baptist Church and José Martí Language Center. During the second six weeks, students will live at the Center for Christian Dialogue and Reflection in C‡rdenas, Elián González's hometown, and serve in agricultural, ecological, community development or other service jobs.

"Many people come to Cuba for short-term learning. Many come in on work brigades. The Cubans are geared up for that, but they have not seen the two together," Romero said.

Photo of CubaThe Ethiopian unit, announced in March of 2000, takes students to a developing nation that offers a spectrum of cultural opportunities, religious history and political lessons. Students will split their time between studying the Amharic language in Addis Ababa and doing service in other parts of the country.