March 02, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

Calvin students will experience all facets of the "Andean reality" through the new semester program in Peru.

This fall, for the first time in Calvin study-abroad history, students will be able to spend a semester in Peru. They will live with Peruvian families in Arequipa, a city of 900,000, and study with Peruvian students at the Universidad Católica San Pablo. They will visit Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines.

They will also, said Spanish professor Dianne Zandstra, immerse themselves in Spanish language and culture. “You can never really learn the language until you experience the language as a way of life and a way of looking at the world,” she said. “It’s kind of like doing science without a lab, nursing without clinicals.”

Though Calvin has offered interims in Brazil, Argentina and Peru, this latest Peru offering (an advanced course geared to Spanish majors) is Calvin’s first South American semester abroad: “The whole South American continent is such a fascinating and essential part of Latin American culture, history and identity,” Zandstra said. “Peru has that added layer of Andean reality; it’s a multi-lingual and multi-cultural environment … .The whole Andean region is emerging as an area of interest to the rest of the world.”

Many countries, many opportunties

Calvin currently offers study-abroad options in 12 countries and interim classes in 20. And the college is home to 346 international students, hailing from Asia, Africa, Europe and Canada.

Those numbers rank Calvin third nationally among baccalaureate institutions for the total number of students who participate in a short-term study abroad, according to the 2010 Open Doors Report from the Institute of International Education. The school ranks sixth in the same category for the number of international students studying on campus.

“We have a culture, on the one hand, that encourages young people to study off-campus, and that is nice—but it’s also a huge responsibility,” said Don De Graaf, Calvin’s director for off-campus programs

De Graaf wants to offer Calvin students study-abroad opportunities that are exploratory and fun—and packed with meaning. The Calvin student studying abroad is not a tourist, he emphasized, but a pilgrim: “If you’re a tourist, you can go somewhere and check off that you’ve seen this, seen that.” Calvin study abroad, like Calvin study everywhere, is meant to draw students closer to God, he said. And experiencing other cultures is a profound way to do so.

Wonder, heartbreak, hope

“I think our off-campus programs are a way for students to see the awesome places of this world, the wonder. They can also see the heartbreak of the world—the places where people are living in poverty—and also the hope.”

In a year that saw the launch of the Peru semester and the popular “Amazing Race” interim, De Graaf is looking forward to developing an assessment strategy for off-campus learning. “It’s nice to be able to have that mechanism, where we can have the opportunity to take some chances or we can take the risk to create something new.”

Students studying in Gernoble, France

Students at an orphanage in Cambodia

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