Off-campus groups continue relationships at Calvin
Calvin College boasts 14 off-campus semesters and roughly 40 off-campus interims every year. Students regularly sign up for the programs without knowing many of the people going, but over the course of a month or a semester, they form new relationships with others who shared in those meaningful experiences.
But what happens when those groups return to Calvin?
As these off-campus students adjust to life back in Grand Rapids, they often try to maintain the friendships that began in far-off places.
“We spent all of our time together when we were in New England, so we couldn’t just stop seeing each other,” said junior Liz Van Ryn. “Even though we all had our own groups of friends, we had to make room for some new ones in our busy schedules. But the majority of us were more than happy to do so.”
Van Ryn is one of 27 students that participated in last January’s New England Saints interim. This past weekend, the group gathered at Camp Waltman Lake to spend some time reminiscing, catching up and looking toward the future.
“Getting to spend a significant amount of time with those people again was amazing,” Van Ryn said. “It’s great that we can talk about all the fun times we had in the past, but we are also friends in the present, and we have so much that will keep us bonded even after Calvin.”
Buoyed by a sense of community that began in New England, the group continued to meet throughout second semester and have had a number of informal reunions leading up to this weekend retreat.
“We keep meeting because you continue to learn so much about people after that initial time together,” said professor Bill Vande Kopple, who led the New England Saints trip along with professor Nancy Hull and professor Gary Schmidt. ”There is a sense of continued care that has developed, which is so valuable for both students and professors.”
In addition to helping create relationships among students, studying off campus also gives students and professors a unique chance to interact outside of the classroom.
“I have never felt this close to a group of students before,” said Vande Kopple. “The challenges we faced brought us closer together, and continue to connect us as we all are pursuing different paths.”
While interim groups spend three weeks together before returning to Calvin, the semester programs help students form relationships over a longer period of time away from campus.
“I went not knowing anyone,” said Dana Krol, a junior who went on the Britain semester last spring. “I knew I would make friends along the way, but I never in a million years thought they would become some of my best friends. Such a strong bond formed between everyone over there.”
Students stress that because this kind of educational and cultural experience often has a lasting impact on the lives of the people involved, most of them need others they can talk to that understand their time away from Calvin.
“We were able to share in the difficulties and awesome experiences that come with a semester abroad and we’ll always have those memories to look back on,” said Krol. “They have become my support group. These people are friends that listen, love and accept me as I am.”