Samford student Natalie Mitchell spent a recent morning helping a class of Indonesian third-graders practice their English.
"We sang simple songs with them like 'Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes' and read them children's books, which they loved," she said. "The children asked us questions and we would answer them."
Mitchell and seven other Samford education students traveled to Jakarta, Indonesia, with Dr. Jeanna Westmoreland as part of a Jan Term class to learn more about the culture and history of the southeast Asian nation, and to gain a cross-cultural classroom experience.
The Samford group spent five of the eight days teaching and observing in three levels of Christian schools, some in high poverty areas and others in affluent neighborhoods.
Mitchell said the experience confirmed her decision to become a teacher. "The students had such a joy about being in the classroom," she said. "The atmosphere the teacher brought to the classroom was so positive."
Samford student Hannah Barnette said the experience showed her "how a teacher could be a student's only source of stability" and the importance of "creating a safe and positive classroom environment." She said she might encounter "students with these same issues" wherever she taught.
"The trip to Indonesia opened the eyes of eight young women to the needs and opportunities found in a radically different culture," said Dr. Westmoreland.
Raising Samford's Identity in Asia
The Jan Term course was part of a multi-purpose initiative aimed at building Samford's reputation in Asia, especially within its Christian communities. Samford wants to raise its Asian identity for two reasons: to recruit students, and to provide a richer international experience for those already in the student body.
Samford President Andrew Westmoreland and several others traveled to Indonesia as part of the initiative, and continued on to China and the Republic of Korea. That group included School of the Arts Dean Joe Hopkins and Samford international recruiter Hunter Denson. Beeson Divinity School Dean Timothy George met the group in Jakarta after leading a seminar on "Reading Scripture with the Reformers" in Singapore.
Westmoreland and George preached and Hopkins sang in Christian churches along the way. Denson met with prospective students and charted plans for additional recruiting efforts in Asia.
Samford already has recruited about 175 students from China since 2010, and a few from other Asian nations, but the University would like to see these numbers grow. With the help of friends in each of the three nations recently visited, Samford is establishing ties that could help meet that goal.
In Indonesia, the Westmorelands have assisted and supported a K-12 school and an 8,000-student university--both Christian--begun in the 1990s. The opportunity for exchange programs with the Indonesian university, Universitas Pelita Harapan (UPH), located near Jakarta, is being explored.
"I see meaningful opportunities for the exchange of student internship/missions projects, faculty, job placement and ensemble performance tours," said Hopkins. He hopes to use a portion of his upcoming Fulbright Specialist grant at the Indonesian university.
Denson said he saw "exceptional recruitment possibilities" in Indonesia because of its use of an international baccalaureate curriculum, some focus on Christ-centered education and high English language proficiency.
In China, the group met with Roger Wang, head of a company that helps Samford recruit students from that nation. To build greater "brand awareness" of Samford in China, Wang suggested pursuing memoranda of understanding with some leading universities. The Samford group visited the University of Science and Technology and Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, beginning dialogs aimed at signing cooperative agreements.
Denson noted that Wang's efforts had drawn large crowds of qualified students to informational sessions on studying at Samford.
In the Republic of Korea, Far East Broadcasting Company chairman Billy Kim--who spoke at Samford's commencement last May--arranged a schedule enabling Westmoreland to preach and Hopkins to sing before several thousand people at three large churches in Seoul and other cities. They also met with church and business leaders and the Korean Prime Minister in meetings arranged by Dr. Kim and D. K. Lee, past president of Rotary International and recipient of an honorary doctorate from Samford.
The Christian movement is growing in South Korea, said Denson, making Samford's Christ-focused education a great fit for many Korean students. Hopkins noted that Samford's A Cappella Choir enjoyed successful tours to Korea in the 1970s and '80s, and suggested return visits by ensemble groups and faculty and student exchanges.
Increased Opportunities in Asia
"Perhaps hundreds of doors have opened to us over the past three weeks," Westmoreland said upon his return in late January. "The trip exceeded our expectations to the extent that I find it impossible to describe the impact."
To build upon this momentum, he listed several steps including:
* Developing cooperative programs with UPH.
* Working to implement a marketing program within the Christian community of the Republic of Korea.
* Redoubling efforts in China to identify students with English proficiency.
* Pursuing cooperative agreements with leading universities in China.
"We should be diligent in helping the members of our campus community to understand the ways in which we must support international students," Westmoreland said. He called for a campus culture that would "anticipate the needs of our international students and to do in a natural way the things that create a welcoming environment."
Westmoreland called on Samford to work in concert to expand its many opportunities "to connect our American students and faculty members to this portion of the world that will so significantly shape our current century."