Preparing to serve
International development studies program continues to grow

By Myrna DeVries Anderson '00


Marie Scheffers ’01 has an enduring memory of her 2000 semester in Honduras: “We visited a community near Tegucigalpa that was somewhere in the process of titling their land so that it could not be taken away,” Scheffers said. “I particularly remember standing on a hill by a water tower and realizing how very important it was that the land below actually belong to the community that was working on it.”

In the nine years since then, Scheffers has managed a goat project in Rwanda (an effort that supplies goats to impoverished communities) with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC). She has interned on both the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia, and she has spent summers doing development work in the Sudan. (“There is nothing like sitting around talking with a group of women in the Sudan to make you feel like there are still problems with human rights in the world,” she said.)

HondurasScheffers has also earned a law degree from New York University, a move she explains in this way: “I wanted to be the person who knows what to do if someone’s land is taken away.” Currently working as a clerk for a judge in Portland, Ore., Scheffers said, “It’s important to have some practical experience with the legal system before you start working with another country’s legal system.”

Scheffers is a graduate of Calvin’s international development studies (IDS) program, an interdisciplinary major that prepares Calvin students to do development work all over the world.

To be effective in development work, you need to be prepared, stressed IDS program director Roland Hoksbergen: “There are too many people who hear the call of God to go help people, but they don’t do their homework,” Hoksbergen said. “They don’t go through an apprenticeship. They don’t do the training. They don’t read the books. … That’s the important part of this program. We help people do the basic homework.”

The Honduras semester has relocated to Mexico for Fall 2009!

Also, Honduras semester seeks to impart a 'lasting influence'

That homework includes a study of the multitudinous issues that influence development work: “We look at economics, environmental issues, gender, ecological issues, religious and cultural issues,” Hoksbergen said of the IDS program. “When you look at those things closely, you see that they network in a variety of ways.”

Calvin’s IDS program requires students to study the different theories of development and the worldviews behind those theories. Students also study how development works in individual communities. 

“Part of the field of international development is to tease out what it means to be developed,” said Amy Patterson, a Calvin political science professor who teaches IDS courses. “Does it mean they have better health? Does it mean human rights are protected or women’s rights are protected? For many experts in the field, development means growing a country’s economy, Patterson said, adding: “That’s not sufficient.”

Because international development encompasses so many areas of human life, IDS is a flexible major; its requirements can be combined with a number of different fields of study. “There’s no one right way to do this,” Hoksbergen said.

One key, and required, part of the IDS program, he said, is the semester abroad in a developing country. Calvin offers semester programs in Honduras — directed by Kurt Ver Beek ’86 and Jo Ann Van Engen ’86 (see 'Lasting' story)—and in Ghana, directed by various Calvin faculty. A third study-abroad option for development students is the semester program in Thailand offered through the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute. (Initiated as an international program of Kalamazoo College, the Thailand semester is now based in that country and part of The Foundation for Experiential Learning.)

honduras“The students learn all sorts of things from going overseas,” Hoksbergen said, “the way of life, the flow of life, the character in relationships.”

Hoksbergen had his first formative overseas experience not long after he dropped out of Calvin and headed to Alaska. “After my sophomore year, I just said, ‘I’m quitting,’” he described it. In 1976, there was a massive earthquake in Guatemala, and Hoksbergen was invited to help with reconstruction efforts. “I said, ‘Sure, I will,” he recalled. “I had a diaconal spirit, if you will.”

Hoksbergen lived for a year in Guatemala, getting a feel for the culture and for development in that culture. “One of the things I decided then was that economics was a big part of that,” Hoksbergen said. He returned to Calvin to earn a degree in economics and went on to the University of Notre Dame to earn graduate degrees in the field.

Hoksbergen returned to Calvin as a professor in 1983, and he served twice with the CRWRC in Costa Rica. When he returned the second time, in 1991, he gathered all of the Calvin faculty who were interested in global hunger, international justice, global poverty and other issues of international development around the same table. “We used who we had,” he said. The group worked on a proposal to create a Third World development studies minor, first offered in 1993. 

hondurasFrom its creation, the program was designed as an interdisciplinary offering, and it proved to be a popular one. The number of student with TWDS minors grew from two in the program’s first year to 36 in 2004. Throughout the 1990s, said Hoksbergen, several factors converged to grow the TWDS program: rising global awareness and interaction, rising student interest, expansion of off-campus programs—some in developing countries—and an increasing number of Calvin faculty with international backgrounds or experience in international development.

In 2005, a faculty group made a proposal to create an international development studies major, offered the following year. The name change (for both minor and major) recognized that development is not just something that happens elsewhere in the world. “Many of the issues that impact people in developing countries are issues in which we are all enmeshed,” Hoksbergen said.

HondurasThe IDS program is attractive to students who fall into the recently minted category of  “new globals,” young people who are both globally aware and well-traveled. “Have you been anyplace?” Hoksbergen recently asked a prospective student. “And she said, ‘Yeah. Ukraine. Czech Republic, Mexico, Dominican Republic, the U.K. and Canada,’” he recounted. “That’s a very common sort of answer.”

Graduates of the program work in a range of countries and a wealth of fields: agriculture; medicine; health; government; education; business, economics, finance; church missions; the law; the environment; human rights; construction; reconciliation work; and trafficking restoration.

Patterson believes the variety of professions reflects the many facets of international development. “We need people in Washington, D.C., advocating for development. We need people talking to church members about why development matters,” Patterson said. “When students take an interdisciplinary major, they can see that all of these are options. Students can see that it’s not all about drilling wells in Mali.”

HondurasSome IDS majors begin doing development while still at Calvin. In 2006, one group pioneered the annual Faith and International Development conference, a student-led event that draws college students from all over the nation for seminars, workshops and networking on development issues. And recently, another group launched the Global Business Brigade, which is working to establish a community bakery on an island off the coast of Panama.

In these students and others in the IDS program Hoksbergen recognizes the diaconal spirit: “By and large, the people who go into international development studies, they come in with a very strong motivation to serve and a heart of compassion and care. I think that the kids who come into the program are of that sort,” he said. “They come in with the desire to serve, and then they try to figure out what they can be and what they can do.”

Karen Genzink graduated from Calvin with an IDS major in 2008. She has potent memories of the family she lived with on her semester in Thailand, particularly the mother of the family. “Her smile stays with me,” Genzink said.

ThailandHer Thai mother taught her how to tap rubber from trees. “You have to tap out the sap. It’s like maple syrup,” Genzink explained. The family also taught her how to fish. “Everything we learned, they taught us,” she said of the family.

Genzink now works as an intern with the International Justice Mission in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and she still feels like she’s got a lot to learn. The mission of that group is to secure justice for girls younger than 18 who are being sexually exploited. So, Genzink said her friends are always asking her if she works in the brothels or in the courts or with the victims, and she doesn’t—not yet. Instead, she bides her time, learning the language and the culture. “I’m just learning to be patient as I learn. You have to build trust,” Genzink said.    

Myrna Anderson is Calvin’s senior writer.