On Being Thankful

What an amazing adventure. I just returned from visiting our Westmont in Europe students, who are studying in Paris on the final leg of their semester abroad. Staying on the Left Bank, near the Sorbonne, they are visiting one of the most enchanting areas of an enchanting city. Walking their neighborhood, I immediately noticed the many bookstores that adorn every city street.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

I strolled two blocks to reach the Seine River, ordered an espresso from a sidewalk café and enjoyed the beautiful, twin towers of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Like so many of my ventures to the sites of our semester-abroad program, this one is brief and intense. Leaving on Thursday and arriving on Friday morning, I packed the day with meeting students, seeing some sites and getting a feel for the program. One of my favorite experiences is getting to know the students and hearing how the semester has gone for them. This time, I entered the group just as they had reconvened after individual spiritual pilgrimages to sites across Europe.The attached picture includes nearly every participant in the program. The diversity of their experiences and backgrounds is amazing.

Here is a list of the group: Demi Berryman, Emily Berryman, Andrew Boyd, Ellen Brudi, Corinne Cherne, Chris Costenbader, Curtis Donahoe, Emma Doremus, Niki Dressler, Taylor Freeman, Sarah Frigon, Andrew Hall, Emily Hauck, Cynthia Hom, Kathrn Hopper, Megan Kooyman, Dominique Loftus, Austin McGrane, Josh Miler, Samantha Moody, Zoe Newcomb, Corinna Ott, Nada Saleh, Bethany Spradlin, Destinee Valadez, Ashley Ward, Anne Wheeler, Molly Wilcox, Hanah Yoon.

Jesse Covington, Holly Covington, Jennifer Salemann, Maddie Deegan and the Covington kids: Carmen, Charlie, William, Margaret.

Chartes Cathedral

Chartes Cathedral

What a wonderful group. I loved seeing Professor Jesse Covington and his wife, Holly, and their four children (Carmen, Charlie, William and Margaret). It was a sheer joy to spend time with our students, hearing how their semester has unfolded and their highlights, challenges and deep learning. Visiting Europe always inspires hope and sadness in me.

On Saturday, November 23, we traveled to Chartres, south of Paris, to see the amazing cathedral there. It’s a classic example of the French Gothic architecture that generated so many innovations in structure, space and theology during the high Middle Ages. The cathedral was built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. The stained-glass windows inside tell the entire story of the gospel. As our legendary guide took us through the cathedral, we paused to reflect on the great and important messages communicated through each pane in each window. For the first time, I began to sense how the cathedrals of the Middle Ages formed not only a religious center but the center of life in the community. Walking the perimeter of the cathedral, we considered the various commercial activities set up outside every major entrance. It reminded me of my own experiences at open-air Saturday markets, buying produce, consumer products and arts and crafts all in one place.

I appreciate the way our semester-abroad program engages students in our cycle of global learning. Pioneered by Professors Mary Docter and Laura Montgomery, the cycle of global learning is a three-fold process in which the students begin with a pre-trip seminar to teach them how to enter a new country and culture. During the trip, professors mentor the students, and deep engagement occurs. Outside and beyond the vestiges of home, students encounter some of the most probing and memorable experiences of their lives. I enjoyed hearing how our students had faced several challenges along the way and felt a sense of growth and accomplishment as they encountered these learning experiences. But the most significant and difficult stage is the third one: re-entry. How do you bring the learning home? After the students return from their semester abroad, they have to re-enter networks of family and friend that have continued without them. They have changed, and so have their relationships. The re-entry seminar helps them bring the learning home. It’s an enriching experience for Pam and me to see the students after they return to campus for a semester and invite them to our home to reunite with others from their semester abroad. They are always excited to see each other and learn about the growth and development that has occurred in their lives as a result of the program.

One of my greatest adventures has been marriage to Pam for 25 years. On November 26, Pam and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. In 1988, on a cold, rainy 43-degree day in Newberg, Ore., we began our married life together. Why do I remember it was 43 degrees? Because the next day, we took our first trip to Hawaii for our honeymoon, where it was a sunny 83 degrees, exactly 40 degrees warmer! It was my first sense of what would often strike me during our seven years in Michigan: Why don’t more people live in a mild climate? We were married in the church Pam attended growing up and the one in which my own parents were married 37 years earlier in 1951. In so many ways, the day reflected our sense of a bright future anchored to a wonderful past.

Marrying Pam is one of my best decisions ever. Facing all that life brings with somebody you love and enjoy makes life incredibly rich and meaningful. I hope as we enter the holiday season this will be a year of great blessing as we reflect together on the goodness that life offers and anticipate the great year that lies ahead.


Gayle D. Beebe

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