Dordt College News

International collaboration

January 19, 2011

Student exchanges, faculty interactions, and institutional sharing create opportunities not only for Dordt College and its students, but for Christian students and universities in other parts of the world.

Much of international collaboration is about building relationships.

That’s not news to Dordt’s new director of International Student and Off-campus Programs. Recently, Dr. Curtis Taylor has seen the fruit of visits to Korea, Indonesia, and Nicaragua grow as he gets to know his hosts and they get to know him.

Taylor wants all Dordt College students to be aware that they live in God’s global world. His goal is both an institutional and a personal one. Two years ago at its annual retreat, the Dordt College board of trustees made a commitment to promoting student engagement with the global community. Their directive was strong enough to precipitate, partly due to a series of other personnel changes, a change in Taylor’s title from Director of Institutional Planning to Director of International Student and Off-Campus Programs. On the personal side, Taylor is a natural choice for helping implement this goal. His family includes a child through international adoption, and they have welcomed numerous international exchange students into their home over the years.

Taylor is responsible both for sending students out and bringing them in. He administers both student and faculty international study abroad programs, recruits gifted international students, promotes student participation in off-campus programs, and supervises the complicated list of ways students can fulfill Dordt’s decade-old cross-cultural requirement.

Even before receiving his new title, Taylor had been working with Korean colleagues and contacts to build a partnership that will provide good educational experiences for both American and Korean students. In the past three years fifteen to twenty Korean four-year and exchange students have enrolled each year. New partnerships have also been established or set up with three Christian universities in Korea that
are eager to work together to strengthen a Christian perspective in teaching. Several Dordt College faculty have given presentations at those schools, and one Dordt Korean graduate recently accepted a position at one of these universities.

Taylor is also cultivating relationships with Christians in Indonesia.

“I’ve never before had someone in tears as I spoke about Dordt’s Core Program and the educational coordinates upon which it rests,” says Taylor about a meeting with the board and teachers at one of the Penabur Christian schools in Indonesia. A woman wept in appreciative thanksgiving to learn about a holistic Christian approach to university-level education in the United States. The event followed earlier visits to Indonesia and the Sekolah Pelita Harapan schools, an association of Christian schools from which Dordt student Jeremy Budi came to study both agriculture and church music at Dordt College.

In a visit to Nicaragua this fall, Taylor and Linda Van Wyk, who works with Taylor and the international students on campus, spent time with people involved with the Nehemiah Center and Nicaragua Christian Academy. The Nehemiah Center describes itself as a community of service and learning that trains lay and pastoral leaders in an integral, biblical worldview and encourages local, national, and international collaboration to bring Christ-centered, transformational development in communities and nations. Several Dordt College graduates have taught at Nicaragua Christian Academy and its director is a graduate. Dordt business interns have also worked with these organizations.

In Cambodia

Sarah Skidmore, a junior business major from San Diego, California, traveled to Cambodia, for a marketing internship this summer. Working with Kingdom Creations, a non-profit that provides vocational training to poor and exploited workers, Skidmore helped market their products to outlets in the United States so that workers, primarily women, can earn a fair wage and support themselves and their families.

My international internship showed me that my education at Dordt matters. I was able to analyze, evaluate, and participate in international marketing. I view my internship in Phnom Penh as a time when God did His work through me. I had a lot of neat experiences, but at the end of the day my internship was about helping improve the Kingdom Creations brand in order to help more women help their families and earn a fair wage to support themselves against turmoil and trial.

Living in a culture with widespread poverty and lacking the modern luxuries we take for granted will have a lasting impact. The level of wealth in Southeast Asia compared to America is overwhelmingly different. Most things are available but for an astronomical amount of money compared to average wages there. I spent my time adjusting to their living conditions, serving God, and loving the people.

In Sioux Center

Rachel Snodgrass is a sophomore nursing major from Harper, Iowa. Rachel enjoys getting to know people. During her first year on campus, she occasionally put little notes on the doors of her fellow hall residents. One day, an international student from Korea opened the door as she was about to post a note. So started a conversation that has since extended to friendships with many international students.

Having a foreign student program at Dordt has been a wonderful experience for me. Many of the international students have become my close friends. Getting to know them has helped me to be more aware of the feelings and thoughts of people around me. With a bit of a language barrier, you learn to pay more attention to the non-verbal signals that people send when they communicate. International students have also rounded out my education by helping me learn about many different cultures and languages—things I would not have known much about otherwise. My experiences and relationships have helped me to better see the bond that Christians have no matter what culture they are from or what language they speak; we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, which helps to create a special bond. Without my Christian, international friends, there would definitely be a big void in my life.

In Nicaragua

Two years ago Matthew Vryhof participated in a semester-abroad  program in Nicaragua, where he spent three months studying the country’s language, culture, history, and people. His time there helped him grow as a Christian and shaped who he is today. It also confirmed a direction for his life. As a result of a service learning project he is committed to teaching children who do not have the same educational opportunities he had.

I have been on various mission/service trips, so adjusting to a new culture was not new to me. This time, by spending a longer time there, I was able to make more personal connections with people. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere, and we saw that poverty. Yet as we visited with people I realized that despite their lack of material wealth, having friends, family, and a roof over their heads made them some of the happiest people I know. They trusted God to provide the rest. This really hit home for me and still does as I sit typing on my laptop, listening to music on my iPod Touch. If I did not have the things I have and was never sure where my next meal was coming from, would I still be happy?  Would I still have faith and trust God to provide for me?  These questions have been in the back of my mind and have had a profound effect on me and the decisions I have made in my life since this trip. 

My relationships with my host family were the icing on an already rich chocolate cake. Host families take you in, a stranger, and treat and love you as if you are their son or daughter. Whether or not you know Spanish, they find a way to communicate with you, to get to know you, and to help you learn Spanish.  I learned just how kind- hearted and caring they are as individuals and as a people.

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