Viewing the globe from atop The Hill

by John Dudley ’95

There was a time when the closest most Americans got to an international career was serving overseas in the armed forces. Times have changed.

American corporations have call centers in India and manufacturing plants in China. Foreign automobile companies have factories in Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Though Hampden-Sydney College's serene setting may seem isolated at times, we have always understood that we must prepare young men for whatever they choose to do and wherever they choose to go. For decades, this meant European foreign-language training and courses in world religions and world history.

Not only do we continue to offer these courses, but we also have several study-abroad programs, international faculty, cultural programming, and a growing enrollment of international students. Today our programs are as diverse as the world about which they teach us.

international studies
Fulbright Scholar Chao Wei and Tian Shihao ’12 of China and Mohit Shrestha ’11 of Nepal at the International House Chinese New Year celebration.
Our world is getting smaller (or "flatter" if you are a student of Thomas Friedman) and our mission to create "good citizens" now means more than good citizens of our local communities and the United States. Our role as global citizens grows each year, and Hampden-Sydney College has evolved to address these changes.

In 2006, Hampden-Sydney College developed a plan called "Preparing Good Men and Good Citizens for a Culturally Diverse World." Though the College has for many years offered a variety of overseas educational opportunities, brought international students and speakers to campus, and imparted to students the value of understanding the variety of culture, both internationally and domestically, this plan formalized a process to increase opportunities for multicultural education at Hampden-Sydney. The faculty and administration of the College used the occasion of the reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and its requirement of a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) to develop this plan.

The QEP has four initiatives: establish residential language houses and an International House on campus; bring to campus Amity Scholars from other countries; bring to campus each year a scholar-, writer-, or artist-in-residence who in some way represents a multicultural perspective; and establish a fund for student groups to plan and carry out programs for the campus community that relate to the theme of "the culturally diverse world."

The students have a Spanish house and a German house where they practice language immersion. The International House is now several years old and regularly the site of intercultural events such as the Chinese New Year celebration, the Indian chai reception, and the Film and Food Festival. These programs, and similar programs at the language houses, are paid for in part by the fund developed in the QEP.

Recent years have seen an increasing number of international teachers on campus. Amity Scholars, sponsored by the Amity Institute, have come from France, Spain, Colombia, and Costa Rica; one from Germany is coming next year. These scholars live with students in language houses, helping them with their mastery of the language and participating in cultural exchange. In a related move, for the past four years Hampden-Sydney College has welcomed, with assistance from the Fulbright Program, Chinese Foreign Language Teaching Assistants who live on campus, teach courses in Chinese, attend classes with students, and lead programs on Chinese culture.

Nearly ten years ago, the Dean of Students Office developed "Beyond the Hill," a program that offers public service trips to students. One of the most popular facets of Beyond the Hill is traveling to Central American and Caribbean countries to work with the non-profit organization Rivers of the World. Since 2002, more than 200 participants (students, alumni, and staff) have put in 29,260 hours of volunteer work in Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic.

This past January, Beyond the Hill returned to Punta Gorda, Belize, for the sixth time to continue construction of a hospital deep in the jungle. Marshall McClung '11 went on the trip in January, his second.

He says, "For the past three trips, we've been building the maternity ward at the hospital. It is vitally important for that area. It's surrounded by jungles. Women going into labor can get there quickly instead of having to travel to another hospital along dirt roads for two hours. We have had some small group discussions about what we got from the trip. The thing that kept coming up for me was being grateful for what we have here and spreading that message of gratitude to others."

Closer to home, the Political Science department recently changed its name to Government and Foreign Affairs. Dr. John Eastby says, "In some ways the change from 'political science' to 'government and foreign affairs' reflects our recognition that we needed a foreign affairs major. With the rise of America's position in the world, we've been called on to deal with parts of the world in a geopolitical and economic way that just was not the case a hundred years ago. This really began in World War I, but since 1940s and '50s political science departments have been developing foreign affairs majors. With Roger Barrus teaching his world politics class, we began to see more of a need for it. Jim Pontuso has been traveling overseas more and more, which also showed us a need for it. And David Marion, with his work at the Wilson Center, has seen a growing student interest in understanding the world and our place in it."

The former political science department has always kept an eye on international happenings and encouraged our students to do the same. Will Homiller '99 is one of many Hampden-Sydney students who have earned an internship with the Fulbright Commission in Prague thanks to the help of Dr. Pontuso. Not only is that particular internship an opportunity to travel abroad and work within an esteemed organization, it also requires researching and writing a paper.

Homiller says, "That internship had a profound effect on every aspect of my life. Academically, I got a better sense of what students around the world were doing for their education. Personally, I developed a broader view of the world and a knowledge and appreciation for the diversity of cultures. Socially, I was challenged to reach out to people and to strike out on my own. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about my time in Prague; it helped shape who I am."

Gerhard Gross
Gerhard Gross ’84
Students going abroad for a semester often chose schools in Western Europe, but that too is changing. Yes, Hampden-Sydney still has students going to France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. However, this spring young men from The Hill are also in China, Morocco, Costa Rica, Egypt, and South Korea.

 

We strive to create the most enriching collegiate experience for our students. Time and again students who have studied abroad tell us what a pivotal experience it was in their lives. Living on their own and becoming immersed in a totally new environment accelerates maturation and cultivates learning.

"Globalization is an unavoidable reality and the world is indeed 'flat,' as Thomas Friedman suggested in his revolutionary book from 2005," says Matthew Scholl '01, a fund manager for Pramerica Financial in Munich, Germany. He says he saw evidence of this interconnectedness when German pensioners lost their retirement savings because American homeowners defaulted on their mortgages causing a financial crisis.

Scholl recommends students study abroad in an emerging economy and make a conscious effort to understand the dynamics at work in those countries. He adds, "Build and maintain a strong and diverse international network of friends and contacts."

Study abroad is an effective way to develop foreign language skills. Scholl recommends it, as does Scott Schwind '93, a lawyer in Houston who focuses on international energy matters. Schwind speaks French, Portuguese, and Spanish fluently and previously practiced law in Såo Paolo, Brazil. He says successful business leaders cannot sit back and wait for the rest of the world to learn English, but he says this with a caveat.

"We are blessed to be native English speakers. It is the language of international business. A Chinese businessman will negotiate a deal with a Polish businessman in English. For anyone who wants to do international business, be the best English speaker you can be. Remember, though, that foreign language can be a bridge to another person or another culture. When I am negotiating with people in their language-even though they may speak English-the fact that I speak their language makes them comfortable. That I am getting out of my comfort zone is a form of good will."

Gerhard Gross '84
agrees that speaking a foreign language is only part of the equation. Now the president and CEO-Mexico for Daimler Trucks North America, Gross could speak four languages when he enrolled as a freshman. He says understanding cultural nuances is also important. "In some parts of the world-Latin America, Spain, Italy for example-people are more emotional. In other areas, like the United States and Germany, people are very literal. Understanding these kinds of differences makes it much easier to work together. What Hampden-Sydney students really need to value, though, are the College's academic rigor and liberal arts curriculum; those are priceless."

Scott Williams
Scott Williams ’98
It was not until a study abroad program at La Universidad de las Americas in Puebla, Mexico, that Scott Williams '98 considered adding a Spanish major to his political science major. After graduation, he took his Spanish language skills and volunteered at the Coast Rica Rainforest Outward Bound School, where he later landed a paying job. He says, "This allowed me the immersion I was looking for to push my language skills and afforded me additional global perspective in living in a foreign country, while working with other young, dynamic people from Australia, South Africa, U.K., Zimbabwe, Chile, and more. My world got a lot bigger that first year out of my historic comfort zone. I understood what it was to connect with people who didn't share my background, to understand and synthesize other perspectives, challenge my own understandings, and grow immensely on a personal and professional level due to this experience."

Williams continues to live in Costa Rica (with his Argentine wife) and is a partner in a successful real estate company with Martin Gill '00.

Charles Blocker, Jr. '84, the CEO of Z-I Capital Partners in Bangkok, Thailand, says having a global outlook for the new century is more important than we may realize. "The 21st Century is Asia's century. Investing, living, working, studying, and existing in the U.S. will be heavily influenced by what is going on in Asia. This is not to say the Middle East, European Union, and South America are not players-they are-but the fundamental point is that the U.S. will increasingly play a different leadership role and have less prominence than in the last 50-60 years. Economic, political, and demographic profiles make this almost certain."

International business is a family affair for the Blockers. Charles Blocker's brother, Walter A. Blocker II '90, is the chairman and CEO of Vietnam Trade Alliance in Ho Chi Minh City and a member of the Board of Governors of the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam.

Not every student has the opportunity or the inclination to spend a semester or year overseas, but the College has ways of bringing the outside world to campus. There are the multicultural programs and international scholars created as part of the QEP, but having international students within the student body gives native born Americans the chance to develop lifelong friendships with young men from around the globe. Hampden-Sydney has a healthy population of international students, not students who come here for one or two semesters, but young men from foreign countries who choose Hampden-Sydney College for their complete undergraduate education.

Andrew McLeod '08 could have attended the University of the West Indies in his native Jamaica, but he came to Hampden-Sydney instead. He says, "At this particular stage in your life, apart from getting a good education, you need to make certain international occupational connections."

The number of international students on campus has risen and fallen through our history. In the early 20th century, many Presbyterian missionaries sent their sons to Hampden-Sydney College. Such was the case of the brothers Addison Alexander Talbot, Jr. '31, George Bird Talbot '31, and Charles Finley Talbot '32, who came from Shanghai, China, and had never before been to the United States

Following World War II, the number of international students dropped significantly until the 1970s. When President Walter Bortz arrived in 2000, he recognized the value international students have in their intellectual and cultural contributions to the school. He increased the financial aid and work-study opportunities available to international students and their numbers grew. In recent years, we have had more than 20 international students at one time.

Mohit Shrestha '11 is the president of the International Club and lives in the International House, where the club hosts many events throughout the year. "We love to have people over to the house so we prepare and serve authentic international cuisine. One of our most popular events recently has been the Chinese New Year. Because we have more students taking Chinese now, a Chinese scholar on campus, and a growing number of Chinese in the community, there is a lot of interest in celebrating the holiday."

The International Club, which grew out of the Minority Student Union in 2004, hosts a variety of lectures and presentations throughout the year plus a large event each semester. One is a "mini-exhibition" with a multitude of food from around the world with performances of international dances and songs. However, the most popular event is the International Food and Film Festival. "We don't pick just any film to share with the community," says Shrestha. "We look for films that have been recognized internationally and that have a message. Last semester we showed Amreeka, a Palestinian film about a family moving to the United States and the challenges they face. Many of those challenges are the same ones we international students faced when we moved here, so we really enjoyed sharing the film with the community."

Eric Lewis
Eric Lewis ’08
After graduating in 2008, Wesley Julian, Eric Lewis, and John Rothgeb enrolled in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET), through which they taught English in Japan. The program not only gave them the opportunity to develop valuable teaching skills, but also provided an exciting way to immerse themselves in a foreign culture.

After two-and-a-half years, John Rothgeb is still living and teaching in Japan. While he appreciates the intercultural development he has experienced, he is also getting comfortable with living abroad. "To be honest, I didn't expect when I left that I would be here for such a long time, but life is just too good over here. JET for me has been an opportunity to jumpstart my life after college by quickly getting set up into a 'job and apartment' scenario. It's definitely not the real world, but it's what I had envisioned would be the next step after finishing school."

Wesley Julian and Eric Lewis have both gone their own way. Julian has returned to the United States and is a graduate student at the University of Richmond. Lewis moved to Cambodia where he was the chief tour master for PEPY Tours in Cambodia. He has recently returned to the U.S.

Hampden-Sydney College students are keenly aware of the vastness of the modern world. During the last century-even the last 50 years-advances in travel and communication have shrunk the world to a more manageable size. However, being able to travel the world with more ease now means our young men need to be prepared to engage diverse people and to appreciate their diverse cultures. The College and its students are preparing themselves for the next century, for lives filled with new experiences, for continued education, for the joy of cultural exchange, and for the benefits of extending their outlook beyond local to global.

Whether a Hampden-Sydney Man is around the world or across town, he must understand the value of every other person he meets. We do this by having a global outlook, by looking beyond our literal and figurative horizons to discover more about our world and ourselves.