By Amanda Mason
Attending an intensive week at Calvin Theological Seminary as a hybrid distance student can be of great value. Although balancing work and personal commitments can be challenging, the benefits of such programs are immense. The immersive learning experience provides an opportunity to gain knowledge and skills quickly. The enhanced networking opportunities can also expand one’s professional and personal connections. Students can also experience personal growth and development by being exposed to diverse perspectives and adjusting to a new environment. Despite the challenges of attending an intensive week of seminary, students can maximize the program’s value by setting clear goals and expectations, engaging with professors and peers, participating in extracurricular activities, and taking advantage of available resources. In conclusion, investing in higher education and personal growth through intensive study programs can be highly rewarding.
Travel For The First Time
As a second-year student, I would like to share my travel experiences with prospective students considering Calvin or travelling during the upcoming intensive week in February and looking for alternative options. My insights will be helpful to all who have yet to make the trip in person to Grand Rapids or are considering Calvin as a school option. I am coming from Canada, so my first time in 2022-2023 was very stressful because we had issues getting passports here in Ontario and around the country. If you do not have a passport, that is one thing I suggest you get on once you have committed to going to Calvin, as intensive weeks are mandatory for hybrid students. This process can be overwhelming but can also be done online or in person; I choose in-person, which helps with maximizing any delays. It is essential to have your passport when coming from another country to cross the border for your visa application, especially when applying for a student visa. It is also essential to safely keep all your receipts, documents, and papers together when you travel.
Additionally, make sure to carry your visa and passport with you at all times.
Other great resources when travelling for the first time or even subsequent years afterwards are to reach out to your local pastors, who may know of other students in your Classis who are travelling from your area who you may get in touch with and share the expenses with if you are driving to Grand Rapids. A significant thing that hindered my first trip was my GPS; it gave me options and a time frame, but that doesn’t include stopping for gas, to pee, to stretch, or to eat, so you need to add that time into your overall trip. Since I did not consider this correctly, I missed the first year’s dinner at the president’s house because my 6.5 hours on Google Maps turned into 9.5 hours with border waits and stamped documents, rest stops and/or construction, and probably also some nerves. If you are flying, make arrangements to get to and from the airport in your country, state, or province, and email the distance learning team to have someone pick you up at the airport in Grand Rapids and save yourself a cab fare and stress. The distance learning team is terrific and helpful in all parts of your week away to study.
Where To Stay In Grand Rapids
Due to the cost for me as a mother of four and because I had some insights from my friends and pastors, I chose to stay at one of the seminary’s condos for distance students. This was at a reduced rate, but I had to share the space with strangers; this had advantages and disadvantages. There is also the option to stay at The Prince Conference Centre, and although I have yet to stay there, I have friends who have and do, and I may try this option in February. And you also have the options of renting an Airbnb, a regular hotel room, and, of course, staying with friends or family if you can.
For this purpose, we will discuss the condos and the Prince Conference Centre. At the condos the first time, I met some great people, one of whom I already knew via Facebook but hadn’t met in person, so I was more comfortable staying there. However, you must be ready to share space with strangers, including their comings and goings, eating habits, and, most importantly, sleep patterns. During my second stay at the condos this semester, I shared space with four other women, and, unfortunately, I got little sleep or reading done and was exhausted each day to the point I almost checked myself into a hotel midweek. Both times I stayed at the condos, I will say I did like having the amenities of a kitchen, living space, close proximity to the school, and places to eat or get groceries, so it does have some perks for sure: privacy is not one of them, though.
From what others have told me, some really enjoy the Prince Hotel. They have clean rooms, breakfast, and privacy and are close to the school. There is a skywalk bridge that links to the seminary. When I return in February, I am considering staying at the Prince this time due to the change in weather and the fact that I may fly. And also so I can have my own space and a different experience. Try both to see which option best fits you. As a first-time student going to the seminary for the first intensive week, try the Prince to get your barrings, and once you are more comfortable with Grand Rapids, the seminary, and the local area, try the condos. Both options are excellent in their ways, and I haven’t heard any negative or major concerns from anyone I have talked to.
Classes, Food, Networking, Heckman and Pete’s
As a new student, you will likely have a busy schedule that feels daunting, but the experience of being in person with your fellow professors and classmates is exhilarating and helpful in your formation and studies. The discussions, the prayers, and the connection of meeting people we usually only see as bubbles and words on discussion boards are so much worth the long travel, no matter where you came from. It is also a great way to network and meet new people from all over the world. I was so lucky to meet a young man from China, an older gentleman from South Korea and Brazil, and, of course, fellow Canadians and Americans. This is truly a blessing in itself.
The distance learning team provides some excellent snacks, lunch, and a few dinners, so you also get a chance to mingle with others at all stages of their seminary journeys and connect with other professors and CRCNA members. One of these very dinners put on by this blog was during my first intensives, and I have been writing for it ever since. It’s been an outlet for me as a new student and a newer CRC member.
The school usually provides you with lunch and dinner with your formation group, which is also so much fun, great bonding in person, and an anchored group to help as you get to know them and build those relationships. Although it can feel swamped, it does help keep your mind focused on why you are there and help with missing spouses, children, and family members; it’s your family away from home.
As students, there is also usually a voucher from Pete’s Coffee House, which is generally connected to the Calvin University and Heckman Libraries. This gives you a chance to get a little break from the seminary walls as well as possibly make a new friend and build a new friendship outside of the seminary or explore the vast campus of Calvin University. Well, you are there; you should, of course, take advantage of it to familiarize yourself with the library, get help for papers, or read a book you may need for class. Outside of these experiences, you can also enjoy the recreation centre facilities. I haven’t yet, but I am hoping to go swimming one week when I am there. You can also enjoy a walk around the grounds, which are so beautiful, or go to Mantis in the early mornings before classes. Chapel services are held on Wednesdays and are so worth attending and taking communion with your fellow students and professors.
The most important part of this whole experience is your relationship with God and your sense of calling into ministry. Whether you are already doing ministry, a commissioned pastor, a youth pastor, a new student like me, or an elder or deacon, whatever your call from God is, this week is specially made for you to figure that out. It’s full of supportive staff, professors, other students, new friends, and sometimes old friends.
Every turn of the intensive week, you will feel supported on your journey and walk with both the Holy Spirit and the CRC. Sometimes, going also makes it clear that specific pathways may not be for you, but they are always willing to work with you to figure that out or recommend another program of study that may fit you better.
The MDIV program has offered this intensive week twice a year, and they know what they are doing regarding spiritual formation and helping direct you to where God is calling you to be. One of the things I loved most when I returned to both my first-time and second-time intensives was how much more connected I felt to the other people in my classes, how much more connected I felt to my calling, and how peaceful I felt when I returned, even without sleep.
There are areas I don’t enjoy, like the long drive or, this time, the rainy weather, but those can happen at home too. I also miss my family when I am away, but I have now reconnected with my extended Calvin family. At Calvin, this is an excellent source of solace that I appreciate immensely. One of the best things I saw this year was a few alums I know and how they all still come back to Calvin on their own to further study, to be mentors, to have moved and are now working in roles outside of ministry or are working in new roles on top of being pastors. So what I can say for those thinking of going to Calvin Seminary or those who are new and unsure if this is for you is to hang in there and enjoy the experiences because one day you’ll look back and be thankful you were so well taken care of by God as he directed your path and those he put in place to help guide you.