Jam-packed days of worship, learning and play at the Institution have come to an end for the International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons scholarship recipients, and they are far from ready to say goodbye.
“I can’t imagine leaving this place and my new friends,” said Tracy Saab, a 2018 scholarship recipient. “When we first came here, it was really overwhelming, but now it is a home away from home. Sometimes I wish it would never end.”
The 2018 program will officially close with a Chautauqua Order Night ceremony at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 19, in the Ida A. Vanderbeck Chapel. The scholars will share their final reflections of their time spent on the grounds and will also perform in a talent show to have one last bonding experience as a group.
Saab, of Lebanon, is one of 11 students selected by IOKDS to attend Weeks One-Four of the 2018 Chautauqua season.
To qualify for the program, students must be Christians between the ages of 19 and 25, who have completed at least two years of college and are either working or continuing their education. This year’s class comes from Lebanon, Ukraine and the United States.
Vicki Carter has directed the scholarship program for the past four years and said the multicultural aspect is what makes it so successful.
“They come from all around the world and share this experience together. They come to understand other cultures, other people and their faith in a way they could not anywhere else.”
-Vicki Carter, Director, Chautauqua Scholarship Program, IOKDS
Zoltan Toth, of Ukraine, said the immersion in a different culture is why he chose to apply for the program.
“I had never been to the United States before, so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to practice my English, get new friends and strengthen my faith,” he said. “It is wonderful here. I can’t even compare this way of life to mine in Europe.”
Eszter Kucsinka, also from Ukraine, said her experiences at the Institution have allowed her to open herself up to new ways of thinking.
“I became more open to others through my time here because I have a church back at home that does not communicate with other (faiths), so I have been able to open myself up to all people and see them as equal.”
In addition to broadening her horizons, Kucsinka said being in Chautauqua taught her to be more thankful for the freedom afforded in the United States.
“This is a really big opportunity for me to come this far,” she said. “Here I have been able to see how people can live together in peace even though they belong to a different church or they have different ways of thinking. It is not the same in my country.”
Alyssa Davenport-Herbst, of Texas, applied for the scholarship after learning her dad went through the program in the 1980s. She was most looking forward to the opportunity to grow in her faith.
“I am much more open to experiencing God and having faith now,” Davenport-Herbst said. “Before, I was much more logical and scientific, but now I am being guided in taking that first step in belief. This place was able to give me that in just a few weeks.”
Davenport-Herbst believes this change in perspective is largely because of how welcoming Chautauquans are in conversation.
“Everyone here is so friendly and open to discussion,” she said. “I can just talk to anyone on the grounds about anything, big or small, and feel like I learned something really unique and cool in the end.”
Ricardo Jbeily, a scholar from Lebanon, agrees that the difference in conversation in Chautauqua, compared with other parts of the world, provides another level of education.
“The people here are so brave in how they think and how they talk, and I look up to their ambition,” he said. “I have learned that it is important to speak out about my faith and other beliefs.”
Other scholars that participated this summer were David Hidi from Ukraine, Alanna McLelland from Canada, Haley Quinton from Kentucky, Adam Shaffer from West Virginia, Zeina Yazbeck from Lebanon and Elizabeth Waters from West Virginia.
The scholars lived communally in Bonnie Hall and Florence Hall and attended morning worship services both in the IOKDS’s Ida A. Vanderbeck Chapel and the Amphitheater. Their scholarships also covered Special Studies classes, and they were given free time to attend lectures and experience other activities at the Institution.
Along with daily scheduled events, time was set aside every night for one scholar to share something they learned with the rest of the group. Carter said this is one of her favorite traditions.
“They each do an evening reflection, and as the time goes on, those things that they choose to share with us are just unbelievable,” she said. “It is so special to be a part of even this small chapter in their journey of life and faith.”