Final reflections from the Fantastic 15

The 15 students who made up the Peru Study-Service Term unit for Spring 2014 came from Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Ohio and Oregon. Their majors included accounting, biology, business, education, environmental science, history, mathematics and social work.

The Fantastic 15 in the Lima airport after their arrival on Jan. 8, 2014.
The Fantastic 15 in the Lima airport after their arrival on Jan. 8, 2014.

The students left for SST on Jan. 8, during what turned out to be Goshen’s snowiest winter in recorded history. They arrived back on campus April 7, just in time for more snow. In Peru, however, the students arrived in coastal Lima amidst a hot summer and left just as the clouds and fog were becoming more frequent visitors, signaling the arrival of a temperate fall.

Thomas, Caleb, Neal, Jackson, Aimee, Gina, Gretchen, Natalie, Derek, Jonathan, Dean, Jake, Maria, Malaina and April formed an unusually close bond and became close friends. They also had transformative experiences in Peru. What follows are the final SST reflections of a group we have dubbed the Fantastic 15.

Expectations versus reality:

“I expected Peru to be a very foreign place and for it to be very bizarre. But all I noticed was all the similarities, especially with the people.” – Thomas Applegate

Thomas Applegate.
Thomas Applegate.

“The biggest expectation SST in Peru met for me was the cross-cultural experience. Everyone who comes back from SST seems to have a new perspective because of the culture they were immersed in and Peru definitely did that for me. SST was different than my expectations in that I missed home and friends and family more than I thought I would.” – Caleb Beachy

“Since SST is something that every Goshen student does, I didn’t really expect to have the incredible life-changing time of my life. After my time, I found that the experience far exceeded that in being a transformative, self-building time with both highs and lows that resulted in a phenomenal time here.” – Neal Brubaker

“I arrived in Peru expecting everything to go smoothly and every day to be an adventure. Everything didn’t always go smoothly, which made every day an adventure in some way.” – Jackson Bush

“I had expected to be really anxious at times on SST because it was the first time that I was out of the country. Anxiety definitely did rear its head. What I expected was to be busy a whole lot more than I was, but it was the opposite.” – Aimee Flaming

Aimee Flaming.
Aimee Flaming.

“The amazing relationships I made, both with the group and with Peruvians, definitely met my expectations. I also expected challenges and personal growth, which definitely happened. I did expect to be busy all the time, but ended up having a lot of down time on service, which was difficult to deal with.” – Gina Gautsche

“I expected to be pushed out of my comfort zone in Peru by trying new foods, not being nearly as time structured and different living situations. These were all met, but I never expected how much I could learn to adjust, accept the unknown and live in the present. These past three months pulled me to be a much more relaxed person.” – Gretchen Geyer

“It met the expectation of being difficult and that I made new lasting relationships and grew in my faith. I was kind of expecting every day to be full of these amazing adventures that past SSTers talked about, but it’s important to realize how mundane SST is at times.” – Natalie Graber

“I think when I arrived in Peru I was focused heavily on myself. Yet in being here, I realized that it was more about others and the interactions that spawn from this.” – Derek Johnson

“It was hard but not impossible. I came to Peru expecting it to be something I couldn’t do – an adventure, something that would be all pain and no gain. But surprisingly, it was a great time of growth because it was hard.” – Jonathan Mark

“I did not expect the amount of modernization in Lima and how well I would relate with some of the people in the poorest areas. I tried not to have expectations coming into SST, but I did expect a unique experience that would be very foreign to me and that expectation was met and went above my expectations.” – Dean Nafziger

“It was as beautiful as I expected, but more fun than I expected. As spiritual an experience as I expected, but more difficult emotionally and psychologically than I expected. It showed me the world, gave me perspective on wealth and made me infinitely grateful for my family, friends and college.” – Jake Smucker

Jake Smucker.
Jake Smucker.

“II came to Peru expecting to face challenges, have wonderful experiences and build relationships. But I could never have anticipated how testing yet rewarding would be. I’ve grown and learned so much more than I expected.” – Maria Thomas

“Peru was different from anything I had previously expected. You talk to other people, but everyone ends up having such a different experience. I wasn’t prepared for certain challenges, but yet it wasn’t from a lack of preparation; you simply can’t anticipate what it will be like to live in another country for three months.” – Malaina Weldy

“I expected to learn more about Peruvian culture and experience personal growth, which are two expectations that came true. Before SST, I did not really think about how exhausted I would become living in a different country and studying.” – April Zehr

Biggest surprise about Peru or Peruvians:

“I knew mentally and intellectually the climate was different, but it didn’t really hit me and I didn’t fully understand until I was here.” – Thomas Applegate

“Their emphasis on human contact and relationships was a huge surprise. We have so much technology and distractions in the U.S. that we sometimes forget that human relationships are most important in our lives. Peru reminded me of that more than I expected.” – Caleb Beachy

Caleb Beachy.
Caleb Beachy.

“The emphasis on family and Peruvians seemingly being racist or rude. They would often call someone ‘gordo’ (fatty) or make other comments about blacks or other races. It was simply a different cultural thing.” – Neal Brubaker

“Peruvians, just like any other people, are all different. Some surprised me by being rude and others by being extremely nice.” – Jackson Bush

“Their hospitality when I was sick in both Lima and Ayacucho. My family took care of me. This included taking me to the hospital.” – Aimee Flaming

“I think what surprised me most was the diversity of Peruvians. Before coming, I had a picture in my head of what a typical Peruvian was (like), but each person I met was different.” – Gina Gautsche

Gina Gautsche.
Gina Gautsche.

“The ever present hospitality of whether or not you were an expected guest. Not only would they offer you or drink or crackers, they would always stop whatever they were currently doing to talk to you.” – Gretchen Geyer

“How little clothing the women in Lima wore. Time is not a thing; not relevant. How relationship oriented they are (family life).” – Natalie Graber

“I was most surprised by how inviting Peruvians are. Whether poor or rich, young or old, all will accept you for the moment, even if it means putting things aside.” – Derek Johnson

“Peru is a beautiful country with rain forests, mountains and ocean. I was surprised by how much the mountains and climate of Ayacucho reminded me of home back in Oregon. The weather was excellent. Even though it rained and was hot some days, I always enjoyed it.” – Jonathan Mark

Jonathan Mark.
Jonathan Mark.

“I was shocked at how diverse the country is. I got to spend at least a little time in each of the three regions and the lifestyles and cultures of these regions are so different. I really appreciated that and it definitely makes Peru an amazing and unique place.” – Dean Nafziger

“I was most surprised by how consistently and strongly the young people admired American culture. My host brothers loved American movies, music and the English language. They wanted to look, sound and act American – right down to wearing (my) American underwear.” – Jake Smucker

“I was surprised about the diversity of the climate, culture and people. I met such a variety of people and had so much to learn from each one of them. People’s bluntness and complete honesty also came as a surprise.” – Maria Thomas

“I was most surprised by their similarity. They aren’t much different from people you would meet in the U.S. My family in service loved to cook, to watch TV and laugh and it felt like many families from home.” – Malaina Weldy

“Even though I knew Peru is a hot climate culture, this still surprised me. People here are just so relaxed, especially with time and they really value relationships and hospitality.” – April Zehr

Biggest highlight:

“My first week on service I met an Australian named Luke. Gretchen, Luke and I went to carnaval, which is a big festival, and joined in. This meant being part of a huge water balloon fight in the streets of Ayacucho.” – Thomas Applegate

“Playing volleyball at my service location in a park with a bunch of random strangers. Although there are a ton of other highlights that may sound more impressive, this one really helped me to feel welcome in the community in a way I really enjoyed.” – Caleb Beachy

“Being in the jungle on service in the orphanage, getting to know the boys and growing in relationship with them made being there worth it. I only hope that they were impacted by Jackson (Bush) and I as we were by them.” – Neal Brubaker

Neal Brubaker.
Neal Brubaker.

“At the school, Neal (Brubaker) and I were rock stars. Our fans followed us around everywhere. We got mobbed when tried to leave and we signed autographs.” – Jackson Bush

“The biggest highlight for me was working at the orphanage. Knowing that I made every day a little brighter for the kids I worked with means a lot to me.” – Aimee Flaming

“I think I would have to say the biggest highlight of my time on SST was realizing that I started to get through to one of the first grade boys I worked with a lot on service. Our relationship started off a little rough, but I eventually looked forward to seeing his little smile every morning.” – Gina Gautsche

“The despedida (farewell) that was given for me at the comedor (dining hall). I can’t remember a time when I have felt so loved and appreciated, especially by a group of people I only met six weeks prior. Their generosity and kind words will never be forgotten.” – Gretchen Geyer

Gretchen Geyer.
Gretchen Geyer.

“Going to school and getting tackled with hugs every day; smiles and happiness from the kids. You just can’t help but smile when Katy loses a tooth right in front of you and giggles while she pockets it for later.” – Natalie Graber

“My biggest highlight was looking at myself after three months and realizing I had changed in many positive ways that may never have happened without this experience. Truly a blessing.” – Derek Johnson

“Going to Quinua, a village an hour away from Huamanga. I made beds for a number of elderly women who did not have electricity in a place where a mattress was a luxury. The toothless smiles on their faces and gentle way they gazed at me and the other workers will stay with me forever. The best part is it was something I agreed to do on a whim.” – Jonathan Mark

“Easily my highlight was being able to learn and appreciate the Ashaninka small village way of life. It was amazing to be able to work with them in their chacras (fields) and to participate in ceremonies and rituals.” – Dean Nafziger

“As spectacular and beautiful as all the sights were in the Cuzco region, including Machu Picchu, my highlight was simply spending time with our fantastic group and having fun together – especially on the Cuzco trip.” – Jake Smucker

“My highlight of SST is the kids with whom I worked on service. I loved my days of Uno, conversation, laughter and having my hair braided. The kids – my kids – were my biggest challenge yet biggest reward.” – Maria Thomas

Maria Thomas.
Maria Thomas.

“This is a very difficult question, one which for me doesn’t have a specific answer. I loved all of the conversations I had with my family at the lunch table every single day. We spoke about simple things, nothing extraordinary, but in doing so, we formed an incredible bond.” – Malaina Weldy

“My biggest highlight was visiting he historical sites around Cuzco and seeing macho Picchu with my SST group. I enjoyed learning about the Incan history, but actually going to the Incan sites as well.” – April Zehr

Your biggest challenge on SST and what it taught you:

“Spare time and boredom in the time between ‘experiences’ was tough. I learned to go out and just join in on random activities I saw.” – Thomas Applegate

“Missing home and people from home was a big challenge. Although difficult, this usually came in waves and it really taught me to enjoy where I am at the moment rather than looking forward to other things.” – Caleb Beachy

“It was communication. I had a good host family and a desire to get to know them well but lacked great Spanish skills. This taught me that I just had to try, to keep working every day and to take risks and talk to folks, even if I looked like a fool gringo. The improvement in Spanish by the end of SST was tremendous. You’ve just got to work at it.” – Neal Brubaker

“My biggest challenge was living without much routine and giving up control over my daily schedule. This taught me that sometimes life is better when you go with the flow.” – Jackson Bush

Jackson Bush.
Jackson Bush.

“The biggest challenge for me was being away from home. I learned that I am more independent and stronger than I thought I was.” – Aimee Flaming

“Not relating well with my host family on service was definitely my biggest challenge on SST. It taught me to rely on God a lot in the hard times of life as well as how much I really appreciate my family at home and how important they are to me.” – Gina Gautsche

“Not being able to fully articulate how I was feeling due to language or cultural barriers was one of the biggest challenges. It taught me to speak less and listen more and move past hardships quicker.” – Gretchen Geyer

“Also working with kids. The school system was initially very frustrating for me and the kids were always so distracted. It taught me overall patience and to just go with it. The school was often a better place for students than their homes were.” – Natalie Graber

Natalie Graber.
Natalie Graber.

“My biggest challenge was not being able to communicate with people in the U.S. You come to realize how much they mean to you after there is no way for you to show them.” – Derek Johnson

“Dealing with non-Peruvian things I brought from the United States. I brought all the stress that I had from back home with me, worrying about jobs, relationships and plans for after SST. It was dealing with everything and SST that was tough. This experience taught me that I cannot control what happens to me, but I can decide how it affects me. Life may be tough right now, but that doesn’t mean I have to feel down about it.” – Jonathan Mark

“My biggest challenge was the amount of free time. It taught me to be thankful for the amount of things I have to keep me busy in the U.S. but also to enjoy the simplicity of relaxation.” – Dean Nafziger

“My biggest challenge came on the service portion of SST in the city of Ayacucho when I struggled to get comfortable in my role both at my service location and in my family. However, through the experience, I learned how much I rely on friends.” – Jake Smucker

“The biggest challenge of my time here is figuring out how my experiences, learnings and growth in Peru relates to my life back home. It’s hard to build such strong, wonderful friendships only to leave them behind and fall back into my routine back in the United States. I have yet to find out how this will unfold and what I will learn.” – Maria Thomas

“The biggest challenge for me was living in Lima and feeling very isolated even amongst 10 million people in the big city. But this experience helped me to turn to my fellow SSTers for support and love and in the process, I became very close to many of them. I never had to feel alone knowing they were there with me and knowing that I could be strong because of them.” – Malaina Weldy

Malaina Weldy.
Malaina Weldy.

“The language barrier was the biggest challenge for me on SST and especially not being able to express all that I wanted to communicate to others. I learned how to have more patience and just keep persevering.” – April Zehr

What you will remember most about Peru SST:

“The bonding time with the group, going out and experiencing Peru with people in the group and making memories, not just happening by them.” – Thomas Applegate

“The experiences and people I got to share them with. There are people that I got to become close to who I never would have had the opportunity to form a relationship with otherwise. This was something that happened to me not only with Peruvians but with people from Goshen as well that I might see on a regular basis, but never really knew them otherwise.” – Caleb Beachy

“Two things. First off, people, including Peruvians I met as well as our Goshen SST group. I’m blessed to take all these relationships back to the states. The second thing is all the adventures we took in the jungle – climbing waterfalls, dancing in villages, eating crazy fruits. All was a good time.” – Neal Brubaker

“I think I will remember the experiences I shared with the boys at Casa Girasoles (orphanage). We shared a lot of good times and I would like to believe that I left them with a lasting impression.”         – Jackson Bush

“My group and the friendships I have made along the way. I will remember my friend, Clare, who worked with me at the orphanage. I will forever remember the laughs and jokes that were made when hanging out with my SST group.” – Aimee Flaming

“I think what I will remember most about SST in Peru is the relationships I have made and the perspective I have gained. I met and got to know a lot of amazing people here, as well as growing close to other members of the group. Also being away from home and in such a different part of the world has made me realize what things are really important in life.” – Gina Gautsche

“I will always remember the countless relationships that were built. I was greeted with such love and respect. The Peruvians I came to know were a true blessing in my life.” – Gretchen Geyer

“The relationships I made with the group. Always carry toilet paper with you. You never really know what to expect. Embrace each day with a creative and patient spirit that is ready to tackle whatever comes your way.” – Natalie Graber

“I will remember the people and connections that made all the time in Peru worthwhile. Without them, the journey would have been much more difficult and far less enjoyable. These bonds will last a lifetime.” – Derek Johnson

Derek Johnson.
Derek Johnson.

“I will remember the people I met here, especially those who came here from Goshen. I will remember the experiences we shared of going to parks in Lima, talking all afternoon with Thomas about my book and how we all shared this unique experience together.” – Jonathan Mark

“I will definitely remember my service village the most and the way they live so differently from us. I will also never forget the amazing people in my group and the fun times we shared.” – Dean Nafziger

Dean Nafziger.
Dean Nafziger.

“I will remember the bond that grew between the 15 of us in our group as we saw some of the most beautiful sights in the world and some of the saddest things in the world – all in a relatively short time. Additionally, my ability to form bonds and connect with people from very different backgrounds like my host families.” – Jake Smucker

“I will remember the hospitality, kindness and love shown to me by all whom I’ve met during these three months. I’ll remember my supportive group members – people I’ve grown incredibly close to. I’ll miss the Spanish, relationships and adventures of everyday life here.” – Maria Thomas

“I will remember the amazing relationships I formed with my host family on service as well as the relationships I’ve been able to grow with the group. These relationships will live on even as I leave Peru.” – Malaina Weldy

“I enjoyed creating new relationships with my SST group and host families. Also, I will always appreciate the hospitality and kindness of my Peruvian host families. I will remember the delicious food, diverse climate and friendly people.” – April Zehr

The Fantastic 15 in the Lima airport shortly before departing for the United States on April 6, 2014.
The Fantastic 15 in the Lima airport shortly before departing for the United States on April 6, 2014.


– By Richard R. Aguirre and Judy Weaver