A growing sense that students at Christian colleges need to “internationalize” their thinking, in preparation for work in missions or foreign affairs, led the Christian College Coalition to establish a Latin American Studies Program in Costa Rica. It is patterned after the coalition’s Washington, D.C.—based internship program called the American Studies Program.

This fall, ten students from coalition-member colleges are living with church families in San José, Costa Rica. They are learning Spanish, studying various facets of Latin American life, and working for Costa Rican employers. Their four-month stay includes a month of travel to surrounding countries, such as Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala. Roland Hoksbergen, an economic development specialist and former instructor at Calvin College, directs the Latin American program.

“This program is one way to overcome provincialism,” said John Bernbaum, who directs the American Studies Program in Washington. “There is an incredible contradiction in our Christian institutions,” he said, between today’s general lack of awareness about other nations and “a long and rich history of mission involvement.”

As Christian College Coalition officials surveyed international opportunities for Christian college students, they found there are several dozen exchange programs with Europe and a number in the Middle East. But they found almost none in crucial Third World areas such as Latin America and Africa. “This program is designed to fill a gap,” Bernbaum said. “It is a wonderful opportunity for our students to go down and worship with brothers and sisters in a completely different culture and see the Word of God read and understood in a different cultural context.”

Colleges represented in the Latin American Studies Program this fall include Houghton (N.Y.), Gordon (Mass.), Dordt (Iowa), Bethel (Minn.), Westmont (Calif.), and Mount Vernon Nazarene (Ohio). Bernbaum said the Christian College Coalition expects as many as 25 students to be involved in the spring semester program. Once the program is fully established, it will be funded completely by tuition, currently $4,200 per student. The program’s first-year budget is $175,000, with $35,000 coming from a Glenmede Trust Company grant. Christian College Coalition officials say they would like to see similar programs in other parts of the Third World, including Africa, Asia, and South America.

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