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Sent by Mercy

Students adjust to campus after life aboard a hospital ship

By Lucas Beechinor,'09

Carys Parker and Hannah Palmer stand together and smile.Meet Carys Parker,'17 (right), and Hannah Palmer,'18, both of whom hail from the Africa Mercy, the world's largest charity hospital ship, which is owned and operated by the Mercy Ships organization. The Mercy sails along the West African coast, bringing 21st-century medical care to some of the world's poorest countries. Currently, there are 450 active crew members aboard the ship who have, to date, performed 67,000 life-saving surgeries for people who line up for miles to receive treatment.

Parker is the first person to have grown up entirely aboard Mercy Ship vessels, and Palmer has spent the last five years aboard the ship. Their "year of firsts" away from family and the ship have been interesting ones, and both agreed to talk with us about transitioning to life on land, specifically at Whitworth.

What are some of the reasons each of you chose to attend Whitworth?

Carys: I knew the transition from the ship would be hard, so I wanted a community that would be safe to grow in. It felt safe, but still open to the world. It felt like home when I arrived on campus.

Hannah: One of the big reasons I chose to attend was because Carys was here. I also knew the transition from the ship would be hard, and I loved the way the community felt. It's everywhere here, even where you walk. We've got the Hello Walk? I mean, seriously!

What are your majors? Why are you studying these fields?

Carys: I'm studying theology largely because of my time growing up in Africa on a hospital ship, seeing the hands and feet of Jesus wherever we went and seeing these miraculous things being done. I'm learning so much about how to portray the Bible in a way that excites people, and I'm learning how to communicate truth that is relevant across cultures.

Hannah: Graphic design and marketing have always been passions of mine. It's just what I've always wanted to be a part of. I love the impact of powerful advertising, and growing up I experienced a lot of that first-hand. My parents have worked with YWAM and Mercy Ships for the last 27 years, so being immersed in non-governmental organization culture, and a culture of volunteerism, has really affected me.

What dorms do you live in?

Carys: I really enjoy Stewart. The cultures between the dorms at Whitworth are so different, and Stewart is crazy! All the freshmen there are so excited about Whitworth and life in general, so it's great to be a part of that. Working as a cultural-diversity advocate there has been a really enjoyable experience as well. Whether you're eight miles from home or 8,000, it's still possible to be just as homesick. I've found that I relate to a lot of people here in spite of coming off the ship.

Hannah: I live in East Hall. I never visited the campus before arriving a couple days before classes started, so I had to go off the photos on the website. The photos of East made it look like the nicest building on campus, and it turns out it pretty much is.

Did you have apprehensions about attending Whitworth?

Carys: I didn't think homesickness would be an issue for me until right around the time I left the ship. The sheer distance was hard to come to grips with, after being in such close proximity to my family 24/7 all my life. I was honestly worried about getting lost on campus. It just felt so big compared to the ship!

Hannah: I was almost too excited about coming here to feel much apprehension, but not fitting in or not finding a group was something I did think about.

What are some things you enjoy about life on land?

Carys: I've really enjoyed walking, feeling safe on campus, and enjoying nature. Oh, and good wi-fi.

Hannah: Nature, definitely. It's something we just didn't get a lot of on the ship, you know. Oh, and yes, having Internet everywhere!

Who are some of your favorite professors?

Carys: Keith Beebe. He's also my advisor. He helped me a ton as I was adjusting to life on campus. But really, all my theology professors are just so great. Forrest Baird is one of my favorites. He probably doesn't know I exist or how much his class has already changed my life (laughs).

Hannah: Jack Burns is brilliant. I love the way he integrates his faith into everything. He's so real about it. I love how firm Jim Edwards is in what he believes, but he still encourages us to expand on what we're thinking about. He's led me to ask so many questions and examine so much about myself.

In general, do you see Whitworth as a good fit for students coming from Mercy Ships?

Carys: Whitworth is absolutely a great fit. The community, in many ways, reflects the one we come from on the Africa Mercy.

Hannah: God is at the center of both places (Whitworth and the Africa Mercy), so it is very easy to see it is a perfect fit.

Both women are considering all their options for life after Whitworth, including graduate school and internships with other charity organizations. They agreed they feel called to return to the Africa Mercy at some point in the future, and both feel better-equipped to do so now that they have had the opportunity to broaden their worldviews at Whitworth.