It's a small world after all — at least, it may very much feel that way on the Hesston College campus. This year alone, the college with an overall enrollment of approximately 400 has 56 international students from 22 different countries.
Numbers like that are "pretty significant," according to Hesston College Dean of Global Engagement John Murray, but it's not too surprising for an institution with such a global focus in its mission — and a president (Dr. Joe Manickam) who embodies that, himself a global citizen and international student at the college 30 years ago.
While Hesston College has attracted many international students over the years, it is similarly focused on sending its more local students out into the world with the charge to "start here, go anywhere." The college has amped up those efforts this year, launching a new pilot program focused on providing transcultural experiences for its students.
"The overall global engagement initiative we're working at is how do we provide students with the opportunity to engage cross-culturally in locations other than here in central Kansas," Murray said. "That includes some cross-cultural experiences here within the United States, as well as developing transcultural initiatives."
Currently, Hesston College staff are working on partnerships to offer some of those experiences over two to three-week periods in locations like Japan, Israel, Russia, Philadelphia and Thailand, while one student — '18 graduate McKenzie Miller — has launched the pilot program's efforts to establish a year-long experience, studying in China currently through joint efforts of Hesston College and Mennonite Partners in China. Miller is studying at Nanjing Normal University part-time while also working on an internship through the Zhi-Mian Institute.
Murray, Manickam and Education Professor Heidi Hochstetler all spent time in China last year to help establish this program, but Murray also pointed out that Miller was the perfect student for the pilot — given her previous background in Chinese language studies — and she was excited for the chance to test out this endeavor.
"I have had the opportunity to travel to places such as Africa, Peru and countries in Europe, but never for an extended period of time. These experiences opened my eyes to the valuable lessons and transformative experiences cross-cultural experiences can offer," Miller said. "I knew I would at least do a cross-cultural experience in college, but to spend a year in a new country was even better, and I didn't even see the opportunity coming."
Establishing the program is an ongoing process, as Hesston College continues to work on its global partnerships and what specific transcultural experiences it will be able to offer. Murray noted Miller's experiences — as well as those of other partners and institutions with similar programs — will be key in helping to shape how the program operates.
One fact that has been established is that the program will be open to any and all students at Hesston College, fitting with the institution's mission and focus of encouraging a more globally-engaged student body.
"We believe these kinds of experiences on your resume make a difference in the future. I mean, our world is getting smaller all the time with increased interconnection, increased engagement globally and the increasing cultural diversity of our own country," Murray said. "That's a deep belief we carry here at Hesston College that cultural competency is a skill that will serve you no matter what field of study you're heading for, and if we can provide that as part of your Hesston College experience — and even beyond the classroom itself — that will create a global community that we want to foster."
"Professionally, we live in an ever-connected world today. To understand places beyond your home is crucial to relating to coworkers and to building bridges of peace. The more you learn about the world, the more you realize you don’t know. Thus, this program encourages students to be lifelong learners with the world as their classroom," Miller said. "Each conversation, each meal, each day in China is truly a gift, allowing me to grow in ways I may not even see yet."
Speaking to that increasingly smaller world philosophy, Murray noted that in his time in China last year preparing for the launch of the program he ran into a Hesston College alumnus in a master's program who also aimed to make professional connections in China — illustrating just what kind of opportunity this program can provide.
Bridging the cultural divide (to foster more creativity and productivity) is a big part of what Murray said is the hope for students to get out of the transcultural experience program. He admitted when he came on board at Hesston College, one of his goals was for every student to graduate with a passport — and both he and Miller are excited about the potential impact of this new program, especially to be available at a smaller school like Hesston.
"Through this program, students can experience what it is like to live in another culture, adapt to new cultural customs and ways of thinking," Miller said. "Change can be daunting, and it isn't always easy. However, if we just learn about other cultures in the comfort of our own country, we really don't have a strong understanding. An experience like this allows students to gain skills in adaptability, competency and open-mindedness. All are critical both in personal and professional life.."
Hesston College is currently recruiting students for its short-term transcultural experience program. For more information on that or other global initiatives, visit www.hesston.edu.