Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2010-06-25


Samford University history major Chris Fite’s summer journal includes the day he hiked 3,000 feet to a cliff side Buddhist monastery in the Himalayan mountain kingdom of Bhutan.

 The ascent to the famous Tiger’s Nest by Fite and his Samford travel mates and professors was “quite a workout,” but well worth it, he says.

“Mahayana Buddhist shrines are breathtaking and almost beyond description,” he said of the sites with their elaborate paintings, woodcarvings and sculptures.

In another part of Asia, sports medicine major Craig Ryan Thiessen spent June chronicling the contrasts  between small private and large government hospitals in China. He also made special note of the day he gave away rice to poor people in the morning and later enjoyed a 16-dish dinner meal.

“It was a crazy cultural clash which raised several issues to talk about, because we were put in a very unique position. It’s that type of exposure that truly makes this trip worth it, especially for Samford students,” said Thiessen, who spent a summer term in Jilin, China, in a course led by education professor Dr. Chuck Sands.

In the weeks after May commencement, a group of Samford business student delighted in seeing a sign welcoming them to the floor of the busy Tokyo Stock Exchange, one of many prestigious business sites on their 11-day itinerary in Japan.

The Asian nations are only a few of the far-flung places where scores of Samford students and faculty are chalking up international experiences this summer. Samford travelers are also studying in France, Spain, England, Germany and Jordan. Others are serving in summer missions around the world.

Led by history professors Dr. Jim Brown and Dr. Will Womack and biology professor  Dr. Malia Fincher, the six students in the two-week interdisciplinary course in India and Bhutan studied the interaction between environment and history in the two different regions of south Asia.

On the plains of northern India, the group focused on 16th and 17th century imperial Mughal architecture, including the famous Taj Mahal. “Some historians argue that you can see the ruling philosophy of each Mughal ruler in what they built and in what they tore down,” explains Brown.

Highlights included a train ride on the world’s busiest railroad network, a up-close look at tigers and other wildlife and visit to Gandhi’s memorial. The plane ride between  Bhutan and India, offered a dazzling view of the Himalayas, including Mt. Everest.

The forested countryside of Bhutan, where two-thirds of the country is still mainly virgin forest, a world record, presented a unique setting for Fincher to discuss vegetation by altitude zone and Womack to piece together the religious and secular history of the nation’s theocracy.

If Fite found many of the monasteries similar, the contrast between India and Bhutan, he noted, was “remarkable.”

“They are both amazing places, but different in so many ways,” he said of populous India, with over one billion people and host to a number of distinct cultures, and smaller Bhutan, where about 700,000 people essentially represent one distinct culture.

“India is a land of rich heritage and diversity, but the flip side is that India is also a land of conflict and disparity. The history, culture and religion fascinated me, but the widespread poverty and reports of violence were always a reality check,” said Fite.

Meanwhile, Thiessen was getting his own reality check in China, where sports medicine, nursing and interior design majors studied in their respective disciplines. A major focus of the course was to observe differences in Chinese private and government health care.

Thiessen, who wants to attend medical school, took in surgeries and medical rounds, and learned what health care workers do in China.  “The exposure to medical practices in China was incredible,” said Thiessen, adding that a high point for him was learning the Chinese culture from the people themselves, including those with government influence as well as “everyday people,” such as the ones he met while conducting a free health screening at a countryside church.

In May, Brock School of Business professor Dr. Betsy Holloway led nine students in a study of the unique business and cultural practices of Japan.

The trip included visits to an international law firm, a multinational corporation, the nation’s largest pharmaceutical company, one of the world’s largest seafood markets, a nanotechnology firm, an international art dealer and Japan Research Institute, in addition to the stock exchange.

Based out of Tokyo and Kyota, the seven Master of Business Administration students and two senior business majors also visited prominent cultural sites in Osaka and Yamazaki, and in Japan’s ancient capital, Nara.

The course acknowledges a need that today’s business educators must prepare students to function in an increasingly global marketplace, especially in those countries where they are most likely to do business, says Holloway.

Japan, she says, is one of those countries.

“As the third largest economy in the world, Japan is considered a global superpower across a range of sectors and industries,” she said.

A continent away, in Madrid, Spain, 26 students are absorbing the nation’s language and culture in family homes, classroom settings and ministry endeavors. By living with local families, says faculty leader Charles Workman, the students learn all aspects of Spanish culture: family life, food, religion and social norms.

Some have worked alongside missionary and Samford alumnus Gary Clifton in an evangelistic effort among Ecuadorian immigrants in a city park. Participation in such community and church activities further enhances the Samford students’ language skills, notes Workman.

A dozen Samford students will spend July exploring France’s rich heritage of language and culture through classroom study, travel and daily living with a local family. After a month polishing their French skills at a university in Grenoble with professors Heather West and Mary McCullough, some students will spend a week in Paris.

Several Samford groups are studying the German language in Bamberg in northern Bavaria.

Four Cumberland School of Law students are studying in England June 27-July 29 as part of the school’s annual study-abroad program at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge, England. Course topics include the English legal system and the European Union, international criminal law and new media in the international legal regime.  Field trip sites include Royal Courts of Justice, Middle Temple Inn of Court and  Parliament.

The Cumberland group includes seven Master of Comparative Law candidates who spent June studying on the Samford campus. Cumberland’s MCL program, unique in U.S. legal education, attracts international judges, justices, law professors, prosecutors and legal practitioners, mostly from Brazil, according to Cumberland professor and director of international studies Mike Floyd.

Samford’s Daniel House in London, England, was home base for students who were enrolled in a theatre course this summer.

Eight Beeson Divinity School students, led by Global Center director Dr. Kurt Selles are exploring Christianity and mission in the Middle East through lectures and readings, contact with Christians in Jordan and participation in local ministries in Amman.

The June 22-July 6 itinerary also includes side trips to Petra, the Dead Sea and other sites of biblical and historical interest.

Samford travelers abroad this summer also include Family Studies professor Dr. Clara Gerhardt and education major Stephanie Pike, who are participating in an international program at Seoul Women’s University in Korea.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 66th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 104th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,683 students from 47 states and 19 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference, and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.