Unpacking the Power of Privilege: An Interview with Judith Martin

Judith Martin wanted to go everywhere and see everything.

She grew up in a conservative Mennonite family with Amish grandparents, and often wondered as a child what was beyond her familiar borders.

“I even wore a cape dress and covering when I attended Lancaster Mennonite School and was always curious about the world,” Martin said. “I wanted to move beyond the confines of my family and church.”

And she did. She taught Bible school in Puerto Rico and went to France and Algeria for three years with her husband through the Teachers Abroad Program.

The experiences were so transformative, and Martin, now professor of communication at Arizona State University saw similar changes happening to other Americans she was with. “I became this huge [study abroad] cheerleader.”

At a CIEE (or IEE) conference in the 1980s, she met Henry Weaver, former Goshen College professor; after years of research, they would eventually write Students Abroad, Strangers at Home: Education for a Global Society with Goshen professor Norman Kauffman.

Her passion for international work led to a job in study abroad administration, teaching positions in ESL, communication and international studies, and Martin’s current position in intercultural communication. She taught pre-departure and re-entry classes for years to help students prepare and debrief, and now works to help students recognize white privilege and interracial relationships.

“It’s all connected,” she said. “Whether we study intercultural or interracial communications, the overall frameworks are the same.”

She also succeeded in moving far beyond the circle of her childhood expectations. Her father supported education, she said, but to teach a woman wasn’t compatible with some of the strict guidelines in the church. “He had no idea what education would do for me,” she said. “Education in itself is transformative but international education? People are really changed in a good way.”

A Walk Through the Thorns

On a hot afternoon in Olanchito, Honduras, I walked back on the dusty streets from the edge of town after my last home visit for the day. I loved my SST service assignment teaching adults in a banana plantation town how to read and write. I would visit their homes several times a week for an hour or two of tutoring in Spanish.

One of the families had four students: Senora Alvarado and her three oldest daughters. The visit would last the entire afternoon, and I treasured our time together. Senora Alvarado lived in a very small, one-room cabin with her 13 children. We always had our lessons on one of the benches outside the house, as all the space inside was taken up with hammocks and cots. I had never been invited inside, but I could see those hammocks through the cotton curtain that covered the doorway.

Her cooking fire was outside, and every day she would prepare strong coffee for me from freshly roasted beans. It seemed that coffee beans and bananas were all they could afford. It didn’t occur to me until much later while in medical school that the explanation for the blond hair and protruding belly of her youngest child was malnutrition.

Out of the Classroom, Into the World

In his opening remarks at a service-learning conference a quarter century ago, Goshen College president emeritus J. Lawrence Burkholder said he claimed only one credential for speaking at the event: He was a “born again” believer in international education.

As one who has co-led nine SSTs — in Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Cuba, China, and Cambodia — I write today as one similarly reborn. And in the spirit of some Dominican evangelicals, I’ll testify to a series of rebirths during my years of teaching in a small, Mennonite, liberal arts college — recommitments to graceful living as well as to international education, and to service or experiential learning. God knows, I’m a believer.

But even back when I was a pagan, in my undergraduate years at a college that had no international education program, I intuitively recognized the need for and value of cross-cultural education and experiential learning. In my sophomore year, a friend and I spent six weeks of the Christmas break and January interterm backpacking and train-hopping our way through western Europe. We lived off of oranges and bread; toured museums, cathedrals and other historical sites; bedded down in the homes of any family that would take us in, or in youth hostels; and communicated in our halting French and German, smiling and gesturing profusely when we traversed Italy and Spain.

One Question at a Time

A very pregnant, soon-to-be mom wobbled bow-legged down the hallway as my guide led me on a tour of the Nyarero Health Clinic. We continued our walk down the long, sun-streaked hall until we reached the birthing room. Yelling, she hopped up on a wooden table draped in green plastic, and with not another word, a newborn slid right out onto the table. The nurse and I stood back in shock (though most of the shock was probably mine).

“Don’t touch anything,” she said as she darted out in the pursuit of gloves. I stood alone in the middle of the room. The questions “What’s going on?” and “What do I do?” were racing through my English-speaking head. I just stared at the (thankfully) wailing child still attached to the relieved mother. I was petrified as I watched the birthing juices flow off the table into the bin perched below, apparently placed there for that very purpose. I would later see the pit where this bio waste was disposed, not far off from this very room. I came to think of it as “The Placenta Pit.”

The Early Years, Part I: An Interview with Hank Weaver


The Early Years series will offer a glimpse into SST’s rich history through interviews with key players in SST’s creation and beginning decades. For the first installment, we spoke with Henry (Hank) Weaver of Goshen, who served on the planning committee for SST.

 Hank Weaver’s game was chemistry. It was his love, his research, what he taught at Eastern Mennonite College and Goshen College, and the spark that sent him to Peru in 1964 as a consultant at San Marcos University in Lima. When he returned to Goshen from a year of teaching in very bad Spanish and Lima’s grey humidity, his passion was still chemistry. But now he could not stop thinking about the world.