IVEP reunion: A journey across continents, cultures and decades
Reflections from an IVEP alumna
On Aug. 9, 1986, two days after my 21st birthday, I flew to Newark, New Jersey in the U.S., together with five other Dutch people and, in total, 30 other young Europeans. Our IVEP year started with a week in Blooming Glen, Pennsylvania, with 87 trainees: from Asia, Latin America and Africa. After this week of getting to know each other and U.S. and Canadian customs, spending our time talking, singing, playing sports, etc., we left for our work and first host families where we would stay for six months. I went to Canada, a long, long ride by Greyhound bus. I was placed at Bethany Bible Institute in Hepburn, Saskatchewan, where I worked in the school office, library and kitchen. It was a small town in the middle of nowhere – prairie land, dirt roads, two Mennonite Churches and a small supermarket. It could not have been more different from the Netherlands, where I am from. I was used to a good public transport system and my bike that got me anywhere I needed to go. It was a huge culture shock. Also, being Mennonite there was so different from the liberal and more laid back Doopsgezinden (that’s what Mennonites are called in the Netherlands). It took me a while to get used to it all.
Other trainees in my area only spoke Spanish and German, but we would spend many weekends together, having fun. I joined the school choir to sing the Messiah at Christmas and had nice times with the students. I spent a weekend on a farm combining. For Christmas I went by train to British Columbia, a beautiful ride through the Rocky Mountains. From Feb. 3-9 we had our mid-year conference in Berne, Indiana. I remember the joy we felt when we got to spend time together. We ate together, sang together, prayed together, laughed a lot, did a Bible Quiz and took part in the Sunday church service. It was sad to say goodbye to each other.
My next six months I spent in Stouffville, Ontario. I stayed with a wonderful host family and enjoyed working at the MCC Care and Share Shoppe (Ten Thousand Villages and Thrift shop) in town.
I did all kinds of work: sorting, pricing, putting things on display in the store and making nice shop windows. I also worked as a cashier and I loved meeting and talking to all the clients. The many volunteers who worked there were great and had me over for dinner and took me on outings. They also spoiled me with cards, gifts and flowers when I had to go to the hospital for my appendix a few weeks after my arrival. I attended several Mennonite churches in the area. I enjoyed the hymn singing and the lunches afterward when people invited me over.
At the end of this period, I traveled to Akron, Pennsylvania, for our year-end conference, via Ottawa and Montreal, by Greyhound bus. During the last week with all the trainees, we visited Washington, D.C., shared our experiences, sang together and more.
Saying goodbye was sad. We had come from all over the world; would we see each other ever again? I flew to Paris on Aug. 4 and my parents picked me up from the Orly airport. It was good to be back again, but also a culture shock. I missed the open space and nature I had gotten used to in Canada. I also missed the beautiful singing during the church service. But I felt more at home with what was told during the services in my own church.
During the year(s) after this great trainee adventure I more and more realized what I had learned: Being a Mennonite is different everywhere because of circumstances in which people grow up. I learned so much about all the different cultures and even though we were all so different we became friends and learned from each other and felt as one. All these experiences made it hard to fit into normal life again. Being away from home had been very hard at times, no telephone calls home (very expensive), let alone FaceTiming. Only letter writing. But this all made me stronger, independent and more confident., However, I also felt too restless to stay in one place and I wanted to see more of the world, so I became a flight attendant.
Some people who were in IVEP the year I was came to see me in the Netherlands., Years later, I visited someone in Brazil and met someone from Argentina and Germany in Miami, Florida. Our Dutch group met for the first time in 2019. It was great to see each other again and share our memories. After that day we decided to have a reunion every year. Even the one who moved back to Canada comes over to join us. During COVID-19, we tried to find some of our year on Facebook and we now have an IVEP 86/87 WhatsApp group. The highlight of our reunions was in last October, when not just the Dutch came together, but also Harry Zahn from Germany who moved to Canada and Marcos Neufeld from Brazil who moved to Germany. The six of us spent a great weekend together in Münster, 37 years after our big trainee-adventure began!