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BY AUDRIE GARRISON
GOSHEN -- Goshen College junior Chris Ballge picks up a chili pepper, debating whether he should even try it before taking a tiny bite.
"Is it hot, Chris?" asks junior Ivette Sifuentes from across the table, shouting over Spanish-language television coverage of the Mexico vs. South Africa World Cup game and the sizzling and clanging noises coming from the kitchen.
"I don't know -- my mouth's already on fire from that stuff," Ballge says as he points to his sopes -- pieces of fried corn dough topped with chicken and chorizo (a Mexican sausage) and beans, salsa, sour cream and avocado.
He pauses to let the taste settle. "Yeah, it's kind of hot."
While their classmates study in Peru and Senegal, four Goshen College students are getting their cultural immersion without leaving town.
Students at the college are required to complete an international education program, which usually comes in the form of the semester-long Study-Service Term. About 80 percent of students travel to different countries, spending half of their time taking classes and half of their time completing a service project. They live with a host family. But some students can't leave the country for a semester, whether it's because they have children or participate in sports.
In the past, the school has had them take alternative courses. But this summer, it's pioneering a new SST, one that studies the Latino culture of northern Indiana.
"There is this whole other culture here where I've always lived that I didn't really know much about," said senior English major Kellyn Yoder, who is from Goshen.
Like the traditional SSTs, the students take language and culture classes and also do service projects in the community. While they live at home, they do have a "host family" that they meet with once a week, whether it's for dinner or church or another family activity.
They spend a lot of time taking field trips. Friday, they had lunch at Restaurante Familiar on Elkhart Road. They met with the owner's daughter, Marya Garcia, and then they took a tour of the adjoining grocery store, Carniceria San Jose. They've had meetings with community leaders to learn about the impact of the Latino culture, and they'll travel to Chicago next week for three days to visit Hispanic communities and see a Puerto Rican parade, among other things.
They've all got different reasons for wanting to stay in Goshen for SST. Hernandez hopes to make connections here in the community while he does his service at La Casa, because it might help him eventually find a job. Ballge has a family. It was the only SST that made sense in Sifuentes' schedule, and the content of the class is what interested Yoder.
While Hernandez volunteers for La Casa, Yoder teaches English and citizenship classes at St. Mark's Methodist Church, and Sifuentes works at the Center for Healing and Hope.
Ballge helps out at the grocery store the class visited Friday. While it sounds like an unusual service project, instructor Ana Juarez placed him there because he wanted to work on his Spanish.
He's caught on at least somewhat -- Friday, he ordered his sopes without using any English.
The class ends July 22, and Juarez says she hopes to offer it again in the future.