A Life in the Present

As I watched the microbus pull away, I felt the sinking feeling in my stomach again. This was a feeling totally new to me, and not easy to define. It bordered on the lines of terror, curiosity, and helplessness. Throughout my time of study I had briefly greeted this feeling, but now it had decided to skip the gut and go straight for the chest. The pressure was rising into my throat and I was on the verge of tears. But I held it together; trusting that these strangers I just met will take care of me. Either way I didn’t have a phone or computer or any way to escape even if I wanted to since I had no idea where I was or where I was about to go. So I followed them blindly, surrendering to my fear and helplessness.

We passed by my host mom’s daughter’s house in El Crucero before heading to the rural community where I would be living for the next six weeks, called Santa Julia. As I tried to catch bits and pieces of rapid campo Spanish, I discovered they were trying to decide how to transport my gigantic gringo-sized suitcase. Finally I saw my host dad, a flaco, offbeat war veteran nicknamed “El Zorro” (“the fox”), zip up on his motorcycle as my host brother propped my suitcase on the back and hopped on as well, sandwiching the suitcase between them. That wasn’t even the best part. An older gentlemen on a horse trotted by and hoisted my barrel of purified water behind him, continuing down the path like this was perfectly normal.

Looking back, I see this was a humorous insight into Nica culture lesson No. 1: Strangers will go out of their way to make sure you get where you need to go. And without much thought or planning, things always seem to fall into place. This insight continued to ring true my first day in the campo as my host mother, Lola, and I started the trek on foot to Santa Julia.

Three Little Letters

SST. These three little letters carry almost 50 years of memories for thousands of people. These three little letters evoke a wide range of emotions for many in the Goshen College community. When I hear these letters, a smile instantly comes to my face.

In the spring of 2013, I travelled to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for three months. It was my first time out of the country, and I was more than a little anxious about what I was getting myself into. As I stepped on the plane with my fellow classmates, I had no idea that I was about to travel to a place that would eventually become a second home for me.

The first few weeks were hard for me; I have a hard time with transitions. However, after the first few days with my family, I started to feel at home. My host family was a little unconventional in that I did not live with host parents. I lived with a brother who was close to my age and a sister who was ten years older than me. I immediately felt like I was part of their family. Although there were times of homesickness and tears, my host family gifted me with many times of smiles and laughter.

Women Are Half the World

Nikita Zook spent six weeks in Ayacucho, Peru during the summer of 2013. As part of her final project, she conducted informal interviews with several women who were part of her daily routine in various ways. She wrote what she had gathered of their stories, trying to capture some of their resilience and strength. Her goal was to describe the value of their ordinary, day to day, past and present experiences, and to do that as honestly as she could, in spite of the language barrier. The following was written to be read out loud or performed as a series of monologues.

I. Luz

My story is very sad, she tells me, shaking her head.

She’s standing in the middle of her tiny kitchen as she says this: sink, two burner gas stove, wooden table, two crowded shelves, several broken appliances. She rummages through a dusty canister that holds small bags of canela, cinnamon, rice, dried things I can’t quite identify.

I was abandoned when I was three months old, she says. I don’t have a family.

I can tell by the way she looks at me, brow furrowed, pushing back dark hair with one hand, that this is a line she’s repeated many times before.

She scans the cluttered table for a knife, finds it, starts peeling a potato.

When I was six, I hid sugar in the ground in a plastic bag. I was buena inteligente, she tells me with a grin, I was smart, it was my secret.

And that’s why you have no teeth! her eleven year old daughter shrieks beside me.

Her lips close together quickly. But then she laughs. It’s true, she’s missing a few bottom teeth. I’ve never noticed that though. When I look at her, it’s her eyes–they light up when she laughs.

One Cannot Exist Without the Other

I could feel the upheaval as soon as I entered the room. My mom was nowhere to be seen, and my Nicaraguan host dad, Reynaldo, was shuffling around in the kitchen. It was early in the morning, and he was aimlessly pacing around. Eventually, he put away a rusty metal serving spoon, hanging it on a nail in the wall. He turned to grab a wooden bowl off the windowsill, stared at it, and put it on a different shelf. He didn’t seem to know what to do with himself.

I was new to most things in Nicaragua, but I knew for certain that my father was not the normal family cook. Although I had seen him in the kitchen several times, it was only to bring pichingas full of water, chopped firewood, and sacks full of lechuga inside for my mother.

My dad looked at me, gestured toward the steamy arroz and frijoles warming on the clay stove, and said, “Your mother is in town today for a routine doctors appointment. She made breakfast before she left this morning.”

Really? I thought to myself, She’s gone one day and my dad can’t make his own food? I knew men and women in Nicaragua were expected to fulfill certain roles in the household, but this seemed ridiculous. I finished eating my arroz and frijoles by myself and walked back to the bucket of water sitting on the wooden countertop. Normally, my mother would take away my dishes before I had a chance to wash them, but today I was on my own.

The Early Years, Part II: How The World Alters Us with Norman Kauffmann

The Early Years series offers a glimpse into SST’s rich history through interviews with key players in SST’s creation and beginning decades. Part I was with Hank Weaver, who was on the planning committee for SST. For the second installment, we spoke with Norman Kauffmann of Goshen, who spent years studying the effects of SST on students for a dissertation and book. 

Norman Kauffmann had never been abroad. When he came to the city of Goshen in 1969, SST’s first students were just unpacking their suitcases. No one could predict what the trips would bring. Kauffmann hadn’t even heard of the program. But by the time he retired from his position as dean of students in 1997, he was an expert in cross-cultural experience – as both a leader and an author.

Each semester, Kauffmann would watch groups of sun-burned, jet-lagged students arrive home from three months abroad and wonder what they were thinking. He observed they were different – often in monumental ways – but couldn’t pinpoint how. After he led three terms in Honduras, felt and experienced a new culture up close, his intrigue grew.

When he began doctoral work at Indiana University in 1978, a dissertation advisor suggested documenting the different ways a private Christian college and a state university changed people. Kauffmann would focus on change, he agreed, but not at home—he would study what happened when people left familiar borders.