Chautauqua Scholars bond over faith and new experiences

Chautauquan Scholar Shelby Frank, 19, prepares tofu sliders to share with other Scholars on Sunday, July 2, 2017 at the Ida Vanderbeck Chapel. PAULA OSPINA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

For 12 Christian young adults, Chautauqua is more than just a vacation. Here, they will be able to experience a multicultural exchange, faith retreat and summer camp, all in just four weeks.

These young adults from all over the world are participating in the Chautauqua Scholarship Program. The program is sponsored by the International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons, an interdenominational Christian service organization that has its international headquarters located at Chautauqua Institution. During the four-week program, the scholars will utilize everything Chautauqua offers to strengthen their faith and leadership skills.

This weekend marks the start of the scholars’ third week at Chautauqua, and some said it has already surpassed their expectations. After a tightly scheduled first week, many experienced things they had never been able to. Shelby Frank, who is from Texas, was able to attend a Quaker service, which she had never heard of before but enjoyed.

It is experiences like these that Chautauqua Scholarship Program Director Vicki Carter said are the goal of the program. IOKDS, she said, was founded on the idea of being active in one’s faith, which is what the scholars are able to do at Chautauqua.

Chautauquan Scholar Victoria Yazbeck, 21, prepares tortellini to be shared with other Scholars on Sunday, July 2, 2017 at the Ida Vanderbeck Chapel. PAULA OSPINA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Since the experience is about expanding horizons, Carter said she chooses people who would be comfortable spending a month in an unknown place with complete strangers. This also ensures that they will be more willing to try new experiences while they are at Chautauqua.

“When I read all of their information, if I believe that they’re willing to jump out into the unknown a little bit and take a risk, and are curious, that’s what I’m looking for,” Carter said.

Krisztian Hager, a scholar from Ukraine, had never been to the United States before he signed up for the program. He said that it’s a big deal in Ukraine to come to the United States, so he jumped at the opportunity. Now he rooms with a scholar from Mississippi and has learned that they like the same music and movies.

Five of the scholars are from outside the United States this summer. Victoria Yazbeck, from Lebanon, said her cousin who had gone through the program told her she had to try it. She said she had never been to the United States before, either, and was excited to take the opportunity to grow as a person and a Christian.

“It’s a very important experience,” Yazbeck said. “I don’t see myself as knowing people all over the world … so (through the program) you can know new people, new cultures, and see their point of view.”

Chautauquan Scholar Krisztian Ha’ger, 21, makes a traditional Hungarian dish rakott krumpli to share with other Scholars on Sunday, July 2, 2017 at the Ida Vanderbeck Chapel. PAULA OSPINA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Other scholars participating this summer are Milca Ruiz from Arizona, Sandra Amro from Palestine, Victoria Childress from Texas, Bettina Deák from Ukraine, Rebecca DeLee from Mississippi, Gyula Homoki from Ukraine, Andrew Lechner from Mississippi, and Bryce Thralls from Oklahoma.

All of the scholars will share reflections of their time spent at Chautauqua at Order Night, at 7 p.m. July 20 in the Ida A. Vanderbeck Chapel. They will also perform a short talent show and have a final bonding experience as a group.

While all of the scholars come from different backgrounds, they share a common bond as devout people. While IOKDS is technically a Christian organization, the scholars this summer include Emma Williams, a Unitarian Universalist from New Jersey. Unitarian Universalism is not associated with any specific creed, but is a faith bound by strong moral principles and people of many faiths, including Christianity.

Williams said she was unsure at first, but has already learned so much from her cohorts and is happy to be in a place where she can learn about other faiths.

“Here you just have to sit back and listen to new ideas, which you may or may not disagree with,” Williams said. “But I feel like the only way to move dialogue forward, in any situation, is just to listen.”

Tags : Chautauqua ScholarsChautauqua Scholarship ProgramInternational Order of the King’s Daughters and SonsVicki Carter

The author Delaney Van Wey

Delaney Van Wey is reporting on the Interfaith Lecture Series this summer. Although she is from Gowanda, this is her first time at Chautauqua Institution. She is studying journalism and international relations at Syracuse University, where she previously worked as assistant news editor at The Daily Orange. Contact her at or on Twitter, @DelaneyVanWey.