Costa Rican campus helps globalize Whitworth’s students
Amid the biodiversity of Costa Rica’s rainforest, Whitworth University’s new overseas program immerses students in Latin American language, history, culture, ecology, human rights and public policy issues.
About 30 students a semester will work with orphans, immigrants, squatters and families, and will build Habitat for Humanity homes, plant trees and do other service projects.
The Costa Rica Center is Whitworth’s first international study center designed to increase cross-cultural learning and be a life-changing program, said Lindy Scott, director of the Costa Rica Center and professor of Spanish.
The program includes service learning, home stays and experience in a country that has political stability, no standing army, universal health care and an emphasis on eco-tourism, he said.
Lindy said that while the United States debates what programs the federal government should fund or cut, Whitworth students can learn about another government system, which does not spend money on a military.
In the Latin American setting, students can also experience tensions between economic development, environmental conservation and global inequities, he added.
While some Americans have become suspicious of people from other nations since Sept. 11, 2001, he finds more interest among U.S. youth to know “about the world by living and serving side-by-side with international neighbors.”
The center brings professors from various departments—sociology, art, English, journalism, political science, Spanish and eventually math, business and education—to teach a semester.
“A cultural-immersion study program means speaking the language, learning about the history and customs, playing the sports and appreciating the yearnings in the hearts of people in another country,” Lindy said. “Overseas study is valuable for learning about and loving our neighbors as we overcome our ethnocentrism.”
Lindy and Michael LeRoy, vice president for academic affairs, dean of faculty and political science professor at Whitworth, began envisioning the program when both taught at Wheaton College.
They wanted a semester abroad that would help students understand the world, gain proficiency in a language and lay the groundwork for becoming loving neighbors.
Lindy said Costa Rica was chosen because it is a “green” country with high standards for recycling, reforestation, sustainable construction, water purification, and creation care through conscientious efforts to preserve its biodiversity.
From the 1960s to 1980s, forests were cut down for pastures for beef for the U.S. fast-food industry. Now the focus is on reforestation of native pines and other trees for habitat for native birds and animals. Costa Rica seeks to draw tourists to small lodges where they can appreciate the beauty of the land, do athletic activities, and learn about the native plants and animals.
About 98 percent of the food grown at eco-lodges is organic, using compost to treat the earth sustainably.
In that setting, Whitworth is committed to being a good neighbor as it turns a former French-Belgian restaurant and hotel on a 27-acre site, purchased in 2009, into two classrooms, offices, a dining hall and a dorm for 30 students. It uses solar energy to heat water, and it composts and recycles from meals to fertilize trees, a vegetable garden and the beginnings of a fruit orchard.
Whitworth’s “Core 350” required course helps students understand how western policies have had influence there, Lindy said, as students consider immigration, free-trade and treaties from a Latin American perspective.
“Will we be good or bad citizens of the world?” he asked.
A sociology professor may look at immigration from rural areas to cities, and from Nicaragua, Panama and Colombia to Costa Rica, while at the same time contemplating how immigrants to the United States are treated.
“We are beginning to come alongside our Costa Rican neighbors to address Costa Rica’s problem with child prostitution and some poverty,” he said.
Lindy, who grew up Presbyterian, met his wife Dinorah—a Brazilian who also teaches Spanish at Whitworth and in Costa Rica—at an international Intervarsity conference in Peru while he was teaching and working with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship in Mexico City.
After completing a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1973, he earned a master’s in New Testament and a master of divinity at Trinity Seminary, an Evangelical Free Church seminary in Chicago in 1976. Before and after doctoral studies in church and society in 1991 at Northwestern University, he taught 16 years at various universities and seminaries in Mexico.
Then he taught at Wheaton near Chicago, where he led 12 overseas academic programs in Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Cuba.
Lindy said his international experiences and 32-year marriage have deepened his passion for cross-cultural immersion.
“I have fallen in love with Latin America and the people,” he said.
“Christians in North America talk about love and are exhorted to love, but don’t always know how to love. We want students to love people by learning about their history, fears, struggles and commitments. In the United States, we think we are the best,” he said. “We have much to share and much to learn.”
Building his relationship with his wife, he visited her home, met her family and learned about her history. So when they disagree, Lindy said, he doesn’t assume he’s right and she’s wrong. He realizes she may have a different cultural perspective.
“Spouses need to be humble,” he said, indicating that people of different nations also need to be humble.
Lindy hopes students in Spokane will become compassionate about students, immigrants and visitors from other countries.
“We can learn from them,” he said. “We can welcome and accept them. Education is a relational experience. Correction is also a relational experience.
“Knowing Dinorah loves me, she can correct me, and I accept it. Without love, I might feel judged and resist it,” he said. “Similarly, if my students know I love them, I can correct them, and they will be more teachable, open to constructive criticism.
“That was Jesus’ teaching style. He could tell his disciples tough things, but they knew he loved them,” Lindy said. “That’s how Whitworth strives to educate students’ hearts and minds.”
Students living with host families in Costa Rica will learn their language so they can be good guests, come to know and love them, and learn about their families, lives and how U.S. policies affect them, he said.
“We are all human beings created by God, so our laws should reflect concern for human life,” he said.
“Whitworth students and faculty learn to talk about controversial topics and about what they believe with humility to find common ground on immigration and other issues. The church contributes to debates, content and tone, hopefully contributing creative options. To find common ground, we need to listen to each other,” Lindy added.
If about 30 students go in the fall, 40 in January and 30 in the spring, that’s nearly 100 students who return to Whitworth’s Spokane campus for two more years to help internationalize the 2,700 students in Spokane, along with about 270 international students on campus.
Lindy believes that if 300 to 400 students and professors on campus at a given time have experienced a semester in Costa Rica or gone overseas for a January term in China, Peru, British Isles, Europe, Russia, Africa, South Africa, and have participated in similar off-campus centers ind East Africa, China and Europe—campus life will change.
“Today, the North American church has much to give and to receive,” said Lindy, who is now Mennonite because of that church’s commitment to social justice and simple living. “If the church is universal, we need to be exposed to voices around the world. Whitworth can be a bridge for understanding.
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