A mother-daughter reflection on transformative IVEP journeys

Insight from IVEP alumni

A mother and daughter taking a selfie photo

Editor’s note: We hope you enjoy these reflections from Monika (Penner) Pauls, who served in IVEP 1988-89, and her daughter Maren Pauls, who was in IVEP 2022-2023. Top photo: Monika (Penner) Pauls (left) lives in Colônia Witmarsum, Brazil, and Maren Pauls lives in Curitiba, Brazil. Photo/Maren Pauls 

Monika: I never imagined, before participating in IVEP, all the things I would experience and all the incredible memories I would make and remember for the years to come!

There were many preconceived ideas I had in my mind, both of the culture of the U.S. and also of other countries. Those ideas were proven to be wrong once I got the chance to participate in IVEP and lived and learned from the people I was surrounded with during my term, whether that be the people from the U.S. or my fellow trainees from all over the world. I think that was one of the main things that I learned: to navigate intercultural relationships and to make long lasting friendships! It’s a beautiful thing to think my term ended over 30 years ago, and I still keep in touch with friends I made during that year and even got the chance to travel and meet a few of them again with my family.

Three young woman standing for a photo
Monika Penner (Brazil), Susanne Binkele (Germany) and Brigitte Alt (Germany) became best friends during their IVEP terms. Photo courtesy of Monika Penner

The biggest challenge I faced when I started my term was trying to understand the subtleties of the culture, understanding the unwritten rules of a community and being able to adapt to them as well. Having friends and people who helped me with that or who were going through the same experience, helped me a lot!

The most significant things that made me want to encourage Maren to participate in IVEP were the fruits of my own experience. I hoped she could have the same experience of getting to know new places, seeing different things, meeting more people and learning to know herself and the world a little better.

Maren: Growing up, my mom had a picture board of her IVEP year of people she met and places she went. It always amazed me. We lived in a Mennonite Colony in Brazil, where most of our interactions were with two main cultures, Mennonite and Brazilian. So, the intercultural aspect of the program was what caught my attention and fascinated me. I also loved it when she shared hymns from her church in the U.S. and cultural activities she took part in while she was there.  

She told me many times over the years that I could do it too, once I was old enough and if I felt it was what God wanted. At first, it scared me to imagine myself being away from home and my family for that long. However, she made sure to let me know that fear was a normal aspect of it, but that I shouldn’t let it stop me, especially if it was God’s will. He would go with me wherever I went.

Three young woman stand for a photo with country flags draped over their shoulders
Sukoluhle Ncube (Zimbabwe), Maren Pauls (Brazil) and Jacqueline Nashon (Tanzania) during IVEP mid-year conference in Fresno, California, in February 2023. Photo courtesy of Maren Pauls 

The fact that my mom motivated me to participate, and spoke passionately of the things she learned and lived during her term, made me realize there must be something worthwhile in leaving everything you know behind to experience something completely new!

A group of young people sitting in front of the US Senate building

Arvid Penner (Paraguay), Monika Penner (Brazil), Hiroshi Takeda (Japan), Amalia Penner (Brazil), Susanne Binkele (Germany) and Lukas Dill (Switzerland) visited Washington, D.C., during IVEP year-end conference in July 1989. Photo courtesy of Monika Penner 

Three young women taking a selfie photo in front of the US Senate building
L to R: Maren Pauls (Brazil), Jacqueline Nashon (Tanzania), and Ahyoung Lee (Republic of Korea – South Korea) visited Washington, D.C., during IVEP year-end conference in July 2023. Photo/Maren Pauls 

Monika and Maren: It was fun trying to find things in common from both of our experiences. Something we’ve enjoyed is talking about places we have both been to and people we have both met. Being a part of IVEP makes you realize how small the Mennonite world is, even throughout so many different countries. Both of us also worked with children during our term! But while I (Maren) stayed at the same school and placement my whole term, my mother had two placements, each for half of her term. And since both of us also work with education in Brazil, it was interesting comparing how the education systems work differently in each of the countries, and how we could learn from each other. The one main thing we both agree on is that IVEP is life-changing!