Dordt College News

Preparing to live in a global world

January 25, 2013

Curtis Taylor, the director of international student and off-campus programs at Dordt College, learned to read and pronounce Korean words in 45 minutes.

He learned even more quickly that being able to read words did not mean that he knew what they meant.

Taylor describes standing on a street in Korea and sounding out the Korean word for ice cream. Even though the adopted English word for ice cream even sounded a bit similar
(아이스크림 = ah-ee-se-ke-reem), Taylor had to be told what it meant. He uses the anecdote to illustrate the importance of experientially learning about other people and their cultures. “Too often we mimic and think we understand,” he says.

Today’s world-turned-global-community makes it important for people not just to know about others but to understand them. Obvious examples are in diplomacy and conflict resolution. Actions in one part of the world can have a swift and significant impact on another part of the world, especially in today’s technological world. Words and actions matter.

“Many of us don’t even realize how many global connections we have,” says Taylor—or at least how much they affect our everyday lives. Today, even in small communities like Sioux Center, the number of people who travel around the world for work or leisure is surprisingly large. Not understanding the people we meet can lead to lost opportunities to enrich our lives personally as well as economically and politically.

For example, says Taylor, people come from around the world on a regular basis to tour the bio-tech work being done near Sioux Center. How we treat and understand each other can have a significant impact on such business efforts.

Dordt College also is part of a worldwide and engaged Christian community, one that is quite different from that of only a generation ago. In places like Korea and some African countries, Christianity is alive and dynamically shaping people’s lives. Christian institutions worldwide are preparing students to engage communities in areas such as business, development, and education. Dordt has built relationships with communities and educational institutions in countries ranging from Korea and Indonesia to Zambia and Nicaragua.

Taylor recalls that growing up, his sense of other cultures was often connected to missionaries: the images in his mind had them living in mud huts, enduring a hard life, and primarily teaching Sunday school to natives who needed the help of North American Christians. Taylor hopes that many of these stereotypes are a thing of the past, but also knows that stereotypes about cultures that are unfamiliar are hard to change. A North American student who has not known anyone from another country or culture may express surprise that students from Africa can afford to study in the United States or that they are computer savvy.

Helping relationships develop between students from different cultures helps dispel such stereotypes, believes Fortunate Magara from Kampala, Uganda, an exchange student from Daystar University in Nairobi, Kenya, who studied at Dordt last semester.

“The world doesn’t revolve around what street you live on or what you own,” says Magara. “It all belongs to God, and he loves it all. Just being in a different environment helps broaden one’s worldview and general outlook on life. I have grown in knowledge about many things, and interacting with people from different cultures is a priceless experience that God has allowed me to have by coming to Dordt.”

Dordt College has always enrolled a relatively large percentage of international students for a private college its size. In the past, that meant primarily Canadians, a handful of Dutch, missionary children from here and there, and a few international students encouraged to come by missionaries. Today’s group of international students still includes a good number of Canadians—although fewer than in the past—but increasing numbers of them come from Asia, Africa, and South America.

That increasing diversity is a good thing, believes Taylor. It can bring another perspective on ideas and on life. In classes, international students can bring different examples to the conversation and ask questions North American students might not think to ask.

But diversity also demands understanding and patience for other ways of doing things. Magara and fellow Daystar student Ivy Mang’eli admit to being initially surprised by questions such as “What does your father do?”

“That wouldn’t be asked in our cultures. We expect to get to know people by how they represent themselves, not by who their parents are,” says Magara. She and Mang’eli tried to be good representatives of their cultures, but also to find ways to help North American students understand them as students from Uganda and Kenya.

“I am proudly African,” says Magara, “but it can be a bit overwhelming to represent a whole continent of countries.” Nevertheless, they often tried.

“Africans enjoy life,” adds Mang’eli. “People like getting together and being happy. It’s not based on how much you have.” She and Magara describe their traditionally tribal cultures as “relational.”

“Africans take Americans at face value when they ask ‘How are you?’” says Taylor. “They (American students) are sometimes a little surprised when international students actually begin to tell them.” In general, he believes, Americans are quick to smile and say hello, but more reserved in getting to know others than their African counterparts.

“People in Sioux Center are friendly, they smile, wave, and generally know each other. I love the feeling of community and hospitality. I have been invited by many families to their homes just to share with them about my culture. It is a beautiful thing,” says Magara. “You can only get to know people part way without seeing them where they live. Then you begin to see that there is more than one right way to do things.”

The Daystar students did find that they knew more about the United States and other parts of the world than most North American students knew about countries other than their own. They would sometimes get asked questions about Somalia or Sudan, the questioner unconsciously lumping all of Africa together into one catagory.

“Americans have access to so many resources and take so much for granted,” says Mang’eli. She won’t quickly forget her access to smoothly and consistently running Internet service everywhere on campus.

“I find myself thinking, ‘What am I going to do without Spotify?’” she said with a laugh referring to the online music service that became a part of her daily routine while here.

Magara and Mang’eli returned to Daystar at the end of the fall 2012 semester with many memories, observations, and things to think about.

“We all benefit from learning more about each other,” they say, noting that even though differences are accentuated in the beginning, living and studying together teaches patience, acceptance, and tolerance of other ways of thinking and acting. They encourage other students to participate in exchange programs.

“You don’t need to be the president to change the world, you just need to get to know people and love them,” says Mang’eli. “Just because you see things you don’t like, doesn’t mean that they’re bad. I feel that I’m way ahead of someone who hasn’t stepped out of their own country.”


How do international students end up at Dordt?

In the past, international students at Dordt College were primarily Canadians who shared Dordt’s Reformed perspective on education, with a few from countries served by missionaries with a connection to Dordt College. In the 1980s a group of Vietnamese students attended following a relationship Dordt developed with Vietnamese churches in California. A group of Russian students enrolled after some faculty taught in Russia. Today, a more focused effort is being made to increase enrollment of international students for whom a Dordt College education might be a good fit, says Dr. Curtis Taylor, the director of international student and off-campus programs. Developing relationships with Christian universities and professors in Korea, among other places, led to a new strategic priority: building a globally engaged campus.

“Many students around the world want to study in the United States,” says Taylor. Dordt advertises on several websites geared to these students, sifting through hundreds of inquiries.

“We are very honest, though, about what we offer and what type of student might benefit from our program,” he adds.

Taylor also recruits at international Christian schools and missionary schools in countries such as the Philipines, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, and Kenya.

Some of today’s international students have been in the United States as high school exchange students. This fall, the college hosted its first International High School Exchange Student Leadership Conference to bring to campus international students studying in the United States, often at Christian high schools around the country.

“Many of these students came to the U.S. because they want to go to college or university here,” says Taylor. They apply to places like Harvard or Stanford, but if they don’t get in, they sometimes end up going to a community college.

“Dordt can be a good fit for them,” Taylor says. “These students have usually been in a Christian environment, bonded with a Christian family, and may have classmates who will attend Dordt. They can both benefit from a Dordt education and add something valuable to the education of other students.”

Exchange programs also bring students to campus. In most cases, it is more affordable for Asian students to come to the United States than for African students. Yet, by working with Christian institutions in Korea, for example, African students also benefit. Dr. Sung Soo Kim, the president of Kosin University in Pusan, South Korea, whose university intentionally provides opportunities for African students to study there because of a different cost structure to attend, has told Taylor that his students, in turn, benefit from studying in another cultural context when they come to Dordt. Dordt has exchange relationships with schools like Kosin University in Korea and Daystar University in Kenya.

“We personally interact with every international student who is considering Dordt College,” says Taylor. “We want students to have a clear understanding of the quality, Christ-centered education that they will receive here, and we want them (and their parents) to know that we will personally guide their academic, personal, and social success at Dordt College.”

Doors open for Dordt students in Kenya

Justin Gloudemans, a junior digital media major, learned quickly that jokes are very cultural. Gloudemans was asked to be the co-master-of-ceremonies at an event held last semester at Daystar University in Kenya where he was an exchange student. Not wanting to refuse, he prepared one-liners that he thought would crack up the crowd. At the school assembly, he confidently walked up and delivered his first joke. Silence. Raised eyebrows. His cohost quickly stepped in and said a few words. Without hesitation, the crowd burst into laughter.

Justin and fellow Dordt digital media production major, Jayson Korthuis, who was also studying at Daystar University last semester, found that it also took some time for them to get used to East African jokes and culture. But, they say, they both had a blast doing so.

“It was more than I could imagine and ask for,” said Gloudemans, a Big Lake, Minnesota, native. “Meeting new people, building relationships and being outside the shelter of the states allowed me to experience God through another culture’s eyes.”

Gloudemans and Korthuis were the first Dordt exchange students to study at Daystar University.

Dordt’s relationship with Daystar University has grown as Dordt has encouraged more students to study around the world. Daystar has much to offer in many academic areas, especially in communication and peace and conflict study.

As the first Dordt students to go to Daystar, Gloudemans and Korthuis knew there would be some unknowns. So Dordt staff tried their best to prepare the two before they left.

“We gave them practical information on what to expect as well as cultural tips and how to handle culture shock,” said Linda Schroedermeier, Dordt’s international student and off-campus programs coordinator. “But the best way to learn is just to go out and experience it.”

The two Dordt students found many similarities between home and Kenya.

“We stayed in a dorm setting much like our own and had classes on campus,” Gloudemans said. “We would sometimes help a local pastor run errands out in the rural areas, but for the most part we were in the city.”

Gloudemans found himself learning more than he could imagine.

“I had developed many relationships at Dordt and coming here almost felt like starting over,” Gloudemans said. “But convincing myself to totally trust God when I was far from my support system ignited my passion for the Lord. As I started to get to know the people in depth, I realized that people all over the world are put on this earth to glorify God. Although our challenges look different, our purpose remains the same.”

This insight changed Gloudemans’ perspective on his future.

“I’ve long imagined making big movies in Hollywood that would have a hidden message leading people to learn more about Christ,” he said. “There is still that desire in me, but after seeing these unique and wonderful people, I want to tell their stories. I want to show the reality and truth in the world that is all around us. I feel that was the reason I was led there.”


Media Access: Download Word Version | High Resolution Image: 1 | 2 | 3