GOSHEN -- Goshen College students don't have to leave Elkhart County to have a cultural-immersion experience.
That's the logic behind the school's new Latino Studies Semester program, scheduled to begin in the summer. Students will study the U.S. Latino culture by interacting with members of Goshen's Latino community through service projects.
About 85 percent of Goshen College students study abroad, largely because of a graduation requirement that they either complete a semester-long program abroad or a cluster of culture courses on campus, said Tom Meyers, director of international education at Goshen College. The study abroad program, called the Study Service Term, is 40 years old.
Meyers said the 15 percent who choose to take the alternative classes, which range from North American Deaf Culture to Asian Thought, usually cannot leave the country because of athletic commitments, family obligations or other reasons. He said this program will give these students a chance to learn from meeting and working with members of another cultural community.
Meyers said the school had originally explored the idea of having an SST somewhere in the U.S., such as the south side of Chicago or a Navajo reservation in the southwestern U.S.
"The reality is that a student who can't leave Goshen for Peru for the same reason can't go to the Southwest," Meyers said.
He said one in six people in Goshen is Latino, making it the largest local population that is a potential cultural learning opportunity.
Students will work either in organizations that specifically serve Latinos or are run by Latinos, Meyers said.
In a typical SST program, students spend six weeks in a large metropolitan area studying language culture and then another six weeks in a more rural setting completing service projects. Typically, they live with host families.
With the domestic SST, student will still take the classes for six weeks and complete a service project the next six weeks, but they will live on campus (or at home) the entire time. The biggest difference is the absence of a host family, but Ana Juarez, director of Latino Studies at Goshen College, said she hopes to connect each student with a family in Goshen.
Juarez termed the relationship "friendship families." Ideally, students will meet with the families once a week, possibly for a family dinner. Through the everyday interaction, a student will learn about Latino culture in northern Indiana. Hopefully, Juarez said, families will become comfortable enough to invite students to traditional cultural events they attend within the Latino community.
Juarez said she is still working on finding organizations and families to participate.
Learning about the Latino community from Latinos themselves will teach a lesson students can't get from a classroom, Juarez said.
"The goal is that they are able to find out for themselves and be able to break those stereotypes that already exist," she said.