the Goshen College Bulletin | Alumni magazine since 1956
Photo of Shirley H. Showalter

Innovation - a saving grace

By President Shirley H. Showalter
One of my high school teachers once made an offhand comment that has stuck with me over the years. "Franklin D. Roosevelt," he said, "saved democratic capitalism in America by injecting some socialism into the system in the late 1930s."

All the historians and economists who graduated from Goshen College are no doubt now ready to debate! Did the WPA and all the other "alphabet soup" programs do the job of stimulating the economy? Or was it World War II that ended the Great Depression? Was democratic capitalism saved? Should it have been? The reason I remember that quote is not that it was or is the definitive answer to all of the above questions. I remember it because the idea of saving something by being willing to let go of some parts of it has always fascinated me. Lincoln saved the Union in this way, abolishing slavery only after he saw it as a way to accomplish his first goal of a united country. Today, the People's Republic of China is engaged in a great experiment with mixed economic and political systems - trying to save what is left of communism with a big infusion of capitalism. Jesus, of course, is the best example of all, fulfilling the law and the prophetic visions of his time and place while radically altering all things through his death and resurrection. Nothing could be more continuous nor more cataclysmic.

At Goshen College we are constantly inventing and reinventing. In 1968, Goshen College took a great leap of faith into the unknown. Yet even that leap, said Susan Fisher Miller in Culture for Service: A History of Goshen College 1894-1994, was both consistent with the past and radically new: "As a gust of innovation, the proposed program promised to widen the confines of college tradition. But the Study-Service spirit, just as importantly, held aloft institutional ties reaching back to the previous century, when the Elkhart Institute sent the first three Mennonite workers to India."

Since the early experiments in Haiti, Colombia and Barbados, students and faculty have lived and studied in Belize, China, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Germany, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Jamaica, Korea, Mali, Nicaragua and Poland. This past year we were able to augment this list by adding two exciting new locations: Cuba and Ethiopia. This issue reports on some of the images, sounds and relationships that linger in the memories of our adventurous students and their faculty leaders.

Even as new locations join the SST portfolio, others sometimes fade away or change radically. The People's Republic of China is a measure of both old and new. This fall the Sichuan Normal University celebrated 50 years of existence. Goshen College has been part of its history for 22 of those years. My assistant, Betty Yoder, assembled a scrapbook of those years as a tribute to the university. It was fascinating to see students studying tai chi in 1980 on one side of the page and students doing nearly identical exercises in 2002 on the opposite page. In the meantime, however, the culture has changed enormously. Gone are the Mao jackets and difficulties with basic English in the English classroom. Now Goshen students are teaching idiomatic English to people who want to be interpreters, scholars or business executives and who are very sophisticated regarding Western culture and technology.

What has not changed is the impact SST has on all who participate in it. Student journals and letters home continue to exult and exude wonder, fear, loneliness, discovery, courage, faith, hope and love. Of the 24,000 households who receive this publication, more than 6,000 know first-hand what the above words mean to an SSTer in a foreign land. Alumni often identify as much with fellow students who shared their SST experience as they do with the students in their class year. The most common description for SST remains, "It changed my life."

SST today stands as a testimony to tradition and to change. If you want to experience vicariously this year's learning on SST, go to the home page of our Web site, The more it has changed, the more truly powerful SST has become. In this way, innovation always contributes to the long strands of tradition that bind us to the past.