Goshen College students visit with Dominican Republican President

SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC - Goshen College students recently experienced typical Dominican hospitality in a remarkable place: the National Palace.

On Feb. 4, the 17 students in the current Study Service Term (SST) unit in the Dominican Republic visited the National Palace, like many past groups, because it is an architecturally interesting and politically significant building. The National Palace, which serves as the office of the president and other government offices, is infrequently visited by non-Dominicans, according to Phil Rush, associate professor of business information systems, who is serving as faculty leader of the group with his wife Karen.

After a tour of the palace itself, inquiries were made to see if President Hipólito Mejia might be available to meet with the group, recognizing that a positive response was unlikely. After waiting the group was assured that the president was going to receive them and were escorted into his office.

Like all good Dominicans, the president greeted each member of the group with a handshake, accompanied by the typical kiss on the check for females. After asking a few questions about the group, he proceeded to answer a few of the group’s questions. The group found him to be very warm and personable, according to Rush. After about a 15-minute interchange, the group left, each with a copy of the president’s business card.

As they were escorted out, an aide informed the group that they had been issued an invitation to return and have lunch with the president so they could talk with him more in depth. The date has not yet been, but Rush said the group members are already anticipating another opportunity to interact with the president.

“We left the encounter with feelings of disbelief and awe that we were able to have a personal, spur-of-the-moment audience with the leader of the Dominican Republic,” Rush said.

Since the first units went to Costa Rica, Jamaica and Guadeloupe in 1968, more than 6,300 students and 230 faculty leaders have traveled to 16 countries; the college currently sends students to countries including China, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Germany and Indonesia, and to the West African region. New units began in Cuba and Ethiopia in 2002. The program’s uncommon combination of cultural education and service-learning remains a core part of the general education program.