The GO Difference
Junior Maeve Kirby has already completed two GO trips and is planning to embark on a third this summer. Her first was a GO Your Own Way excursion to Managua, Nicaragua, which she took with 11 people from her church. During her two-week stay, Kirby toured several United Methodist congregations that were implementing a relief effort known as Stop Hunger Now, an organization that sends individually wrapped meals of beans and rice around the world.
She also visited with Project Chacocente in the rural countryside of Masaya. Its mission is to relocate families living on the Managua city dump to the countryside, where they’re enrolled in a five-year program that provides an education to adults and children, as well as materials to build their own houses and agricultural training so they can sustain themselves.
In Managua, Kirby saw families living on heaping piles of trash and finding shelter in small huts constructed of branches, cardboard and plastic. Children ran around barefoot, using the dump as not only their home, but their playground.
“Every worry or concern that I ever had before seemed so insignificant and stupid,” says Kirby. “Who was I to complain, when I had a house with four strong walls, clean water at the turn of a spigot, and a maze of pipes running underneath the ground ensuring the proper disposal of sewage? My heart broke for the families of Nicaragua.”
Her second trip was with a GO Short program known as Peace, Youth and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland. There she worked with Youth Works, a nonprofit organization that develops skill sets for businesses and local youth centers. In addition to working with the youth centers, she and her group met with former activists and ex-members of the Irish Republican Army.
“Our generation in America has been extremely fortunate to have never experienced a war on our soil, so the opportunity to meet with individuals my age who were actively involved in the troubles of Northern Ireland was invaluable and very humbling,” says Kirby.
But trips like Kirby’s and Stamatis’ were just part of the GO experience. A great deal of the real learning happened when they returned and took part in another unique aspect of the program—the reflection course.
“WHAT I THINK TRULY SETS GO APART FROM OTHER STUDY-ABROAD programs is the cross-cultural reflection requirement,” says Manning. “We don’t give credit for the experience alone. We give credit for the reflection on that experience.”
This approach is becoming a model for other universities as well. “Other study-abroad programs are beginning to take notice of the Susquehanna model,” Manning says, “and some schools have already contacted us for help setting up similar requirements on their campuses.”
After coming home from their trips, all students must participate in a reflection course, which varies for each program. After a GO Short trip, for instance, students meet with the others who traveled with them. Following a GO Long excursion, students take a course with those from other GO Long or GO Your Own Way programs, reviewing journal entries from their experiences or producing an academic paper, a presentation on or off campus, or a creative work.
“When students return from their cross-cultural experiences, they often notice that as time goes by, they are suddenly seeing things differently than they did before leaving,” says Finch. “The job of the reflection courses is to help them understand why.”