By Erika Snoberger-Balm
It was a cool, spring day in Heidelberg, Germany, and the local zoo was buzzing. A mom pushed a stroller past the lion's cage as her curious, but somewhat frightened toddler clung to her leg. A teacher tried hopelessly to corral a gaggle of cabin-fevered eight-year-olds on their favorite field trip of the year. And there, in a grassy expanse just past the monkey habitat, gathered a seemingly unlikely group of friends. Getting closer to the group revealed a diverse mixture of young and old compatriots, speaking various languages and dressed in everything from collars and ties to torn jeans and tennis shoes. But they were all greeting each other warmly, smiling and laughing as they sipped on Dr Pepper and, strangely, all sporting a similarly-hued wardrobe of shades of green and gold.
It was no coincidence these people, mere strangers 30 minutes ago, could relate so quickly and so closely. They came together, halfway around the world, to share the one thing they all had in common and held so deeply in their hearts--their love for Baylor University.
This was the scene at Baylor's very first Diadeloso in Germany. Its debut in the country in 2004 has since led to an annual affair, from Heidelberg to Wiesbaden to Berlin. It's been attended by Baylor students and graduates, family and friends from around the globe. And it's one of the reasons Rachelle Huitink, BA '99, a Texas-born, Arkansas-raised Baylor alumna, felt right at home, despite her lack of German-speaking abilities and as-yet naivete to German culture.
"No one knew each other beforehand," Huitink says. "Hardly any of us had even been at Baylor at the same time, but it was like we were all old friends, able to reminisce and talk about our Baylor experiences like we had been classmates all along."
Huitink was instrumental in organizing and getting Germany's first Diadeloso off the ground. Her husband, then a pediatrician in the military, was stationed in Heidelberg, where the couple had moved after their respective college graduations and a short time working in the U.S. With help from Brent Edwards, BM '77, MM '82, director of the Baylor Global Network, Huitink spread the word around Germany and the rest of Europe, inviting those with Baylor connections to come together for a time of fellowship, networking and, of course, partaking in the old, familiar tastes of Texas--fried chicken and Dr Pepper.
"Rachelle, you might say, is the poster child of the Baylor Global Network," Edwards says. "Her story demonstrates the mission of the Baylor Global Network--to connect Baylor people to each other, and to keep all of those people connected to Baylor."
Since 2003, Edwards has worked tirelessly connecting Baylor in Waco, to Baylor all around the globe. He has spearheaded Baylor events in cities from Berlin and London, to Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo. Guided by Imperative IX of Baylor's Vision 2012, Edwards and the Global Network team aim "to involve the entire range of groups with ties to the University in meaningful relationships with Baylor...".
It may sound straightforward, but the work of the Global Network is complex, and finding the Baylor family worldwide isn't as simple as one might think.
"We're definitely still learning [how to find] international alumni," Edwards says. "With the Global Network initiative, we've tried to be even more intentional by using the resources that have been at Baylor for years, and gathering them together."
Edwards says the best international connections come not on paper, but from word-of-mouth, whether through a student who's participated in an overseas mission trip, or a faculty member who has spent time researching abroad. Additionally, online communities have become a boon for the Network's mission. Connecting through resources such as Facebook and Baylor's own InCircle has made finding and reaching Baylor international alumni a much more feasible goal than it was before the days of electronic social networking.
But it still isn't easy. While real estate records and other public transactions are kept by local government in the U.S. (making it simpler to track a person's whereabouts), no such systems exist in many countries where Baylor alumni now live and work. Instead, it's all about relationships.
For years--decades, even--Baylor has been a rich breeding ground for social, business, academic, religious and philanthropic connections worldwide. With the help of Michael Morrison, professor of law and director of the Center for International Education, students who go abroad--whether for a two-week mission or a lifelong career move--can stay connected to Baylor and help Baylor stay connected to the world.
Morrison's office collects data on the nearly 1,000 Baylor students, faculty and staff who travel overseas during each academic year, for myriad reasons.
"On any given day, Baylor has facilitated and funded someone to be in some place outside the United States," he says. "On any given day, we have students or faculty who are either visiting, studying or researching abroad."
Morrison notes the two types of Baylor students who anchor the Global Network: those students who are U.S. citizens and go abroad for the short- or long-term to study, work and live; and those students who are native to a foreign country and eventually return home, or to another part of the world, after completing their Baylor education. Both groups have a key role in expanding the University's reach beyond American borders.
"It's certainly much more fiscally responsible to use those connections we have to people who are already abroad," Morrison says. "They serve as a 'home base' of sorts and are an advantage in that they are already immersed in and knowledgeable about the local culture."
But cultural immersion isn't unique to those Baylor alumni living overseas. Even at home in Waco, Baylor has built a campus community that embraces its international family. Take Janet Norden, instructor in Spanish and Portuguese, whose vision in 1991 of a Spanish language house on the Baylor campus branched into the now-thriving and still-growing Global Living and Learning Center (LLC). Housed on the first floor of Brooks Flats, the community boasts "language suites" in Spanish, French, Japanese and Korean. Domestic Baylor students study, live and work among international Baylor students in a true melting pot of culture, lifestyle, preferences and sometimes, most importantly, humor.
"One student told me the only way she made it through her first month was to have her roommates label everything," Norden recalls. "Sometimes even simple things like chair, refrigerator, bathroom. It's really exciting to see this great enthusiasm for that kind of thinking and a move away from our ethnocentrism."
Global LLC members are sophomores, juniors and seniors who, in addition to speaking in their suites only the foreign language of choice, are required to attend three semesters' worth of a one-hour seminar class focused on global culture, economic and political issues. Before joining the Global LLC as upperclassmen, freshmen participate in Engaged Learning Groups that focus on a specific foreign language to practice and perfect their skills.
"A lot of our miscommunication, particularly politically between countries, has to do with the leaders not understanding the cultures of other countries," Norden says. "They understand the words, but they don't understand what the words may signify. There's a great deal of growth that has to happen and here, we're raising up leaders who are not only culturally aware but who have a deeply-held desire to understand people of diverse backgrounds."
Norden says the Global LLC is expected to grow from approximately 25 students in 2008-09 to 94 students in 2009-10, when it will officially be sanctioned as a program in the College of Arts and Sciences.
And while domestic students get the benefit of living day-in and day-out with native foreign-language speakers, international students are welcomed into a community that makes them feel at home, invites them home for holidays and to social events, all while building the relationships and education that will take them to the next level of professional opportunity.
"It blows my mind to even think of the possibilities," Norden says of the future of the program. "Ten years from now I hope incoming freshmen see residence halls where international ideas and culture are just popping out everywhere, where people are truly thinking and living globally."
That kind of global thinking and living is what brought Singapore native Chris Tay, BS '92, to Baylor to study physics. After graduation he returned home and started a small restaurant business, which was eventually sold to a publicly-listed company before Tay began two more companies in the IT field. Subsequent business opportunities took Tay all over the Asian Pacific and even to Australia and New Zealand. Currently he is based in Beijing and serves as vice president of Hop Hing Foods, a franchisee for the Dairy Queen and Yoshinoya brands.
"Staying connected to Baylor has always been important to me," Tay says. "When I first stepped foot onto the Baylor campus in 1988, the atmosphere was warm and friendly. It was a close-knit school, but not closed-minded. I still remember today my favorite professor--Dr. Truell Hyde. Mostly I miss the friendships I made and many of the people I haven't seen since graduation."
Tay has managed to stay connected to some of his Baylor classmates through e-mail and online social networking, but was especially thrilled to have the opportunity to attend a Diadeloso event in Beijing in recent years.
"When I graduated from Baylor, the international scene within the University was definitely alive, but not nearly as prominent as it is now. The [Global Network] is making a huge effort to get Baylor students connected in the [international] business world, and I encourage them to continue their efforts to strengthen this part of their program."
In a world where a global perspective has enveloped the professional landscape, it is not just beneficial, but imperative, that students and businesspeople keep up with global cultural, economic and political trends.
"In business and in life, you can't afford to be insulated in your American culture," says Dr. Stephen Gardner, professor of economics and director of the McBride Center for International Business. "Especially in our current economic state, the initial causes of which were both domestic and global, it's not something you can just 'opt out' of. To be successful--to survive, actually--is to understand the implications of a truly global marketplace."
Gardner, who oversees a summer program for science and technology in partnership with the University of Shanghai, has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Baylor Global Network and explains that business is born of, and built by, personal relationships and trust.
"We strive to ingrain the concept in our students that success in business is formed by how you establish the trust of others," Gardner says. "And this Global Network Baylor is building only strengthens that concept. They're ready-made relationships that help Baylor alumni and supporters connect to each other in a way they wouldn't otherwise."
Edwards, too, notes the business potential of the international network, but adds that the most important common thread is often the one that binds Baylor alumni and friends most strongly.
"It reconnects them to a significant spiritual dimension in their lives, one that may or may not be inherently present in the culture in which they currently live," he says. "Many of these connections come through relationships with pastors, missionaries and other religious influencers that not only keep them connected to Baylor but keep them connected to their faith."
Edwards' connection to Huitink, in fact, came through a mutual friend Huitink met at the International Baptist church she attended in Heidelberg. Though she and her husband have since returned to the U.S. and make their new home in Waco, Huitink says she'll always remain connected to the friends she met at that first Diadeloso in Germany.
"None of them knew me before Heidelberg," she says. "But the most important thing for me, even though some of us went to college decades apart, was that it felt like they were a piece of my past--a piece that I will always treasure for helping impact who I am today."
For information on the Global Network or to get connected, contact Brent_Edwards@baylor.edu.