In 2015 my wife, Fran, and I were traveling through Laos, a small country in Southeast Asia, with a group of FPU students on a semester cross-cultural program. In our FPU group was a Muslim international student from Kazakhstan who was soaking in the sights, smells, tastes and sounds of Vientiane, the capital of Laos. While there we arranged to meet with a group of international volunteers working in Laos, including a young Christian from Indonesia. There was a chance for one-on-one conversation during the morning and reflection afterwards. The young Christian from Indonesia spoke of the many things he had learned that day about our international student’s faith and culture, things he never had learned while growing up. The two posed for a photograph, arm in arm, a new bond of friendship and understanding between them.
This is one small example of the power of a cross-cultural experience in Fresno Pacific’s Global Education Program. Fresno Pacific students have been crisscrossing the globe in greater numbers since the early 2000s. Students have the opportunity for a life-shaping experience through short-term summer programs or semester-long study-abroad experiences. The purpose is to engage in a significant way with diverse cultures throughout the world.
Over the past decade (with the exception of the last two pandemic-ridden years) students have spent time traveling and learning in places as diverse as Israel, Turkey, Guatemala, India, China, Colombia, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand, Germany, and Costa Rica. In Israel they learned how understanding the geography of the Old and New Testaments can shape the radical power of the biblical message. In Turkey they walked on Roman cobblestones once traveled by Paul and walked in the amphitheater in Ephesus. In India they experienced the majesty of the Taj Mahal and served in the slums of Calcutta. In China they walked on the Great Wall while marveling at the clean and efficient high-speed rail that has transformed the country in less than 20 years. In Vietnam they saw why the “American War” (as the Vietnamese call it) was such a disaster for the Americans, and the Vietnamese, and how the Vietnamese have quickly rebounded.
The results of engaging cultures around the world are obvious and immediate for many students. Students consistently report that their cross-cultural experience was the most significant event of their undergraduate education. They see the world through new lenses, both appreciating the tremendous opportunities they have in the United States and being shocked to learn that the United States is often seen as an arrogant or lazy superpower by other countries.
Most importantly, for some students, their faith is transformed by learning of God’s work throughout the world, often through the lives of humble people who care for those truly on the bottom of society. In Calcutta, at the Immanuel Home, FPU volunteers spent several weeks working alongside the staff, teaching kids new games and helping them in their after-school activities. In Guatemala FPU psychology students learned of the work of organizations that seek to overcome and transform the trauma of a society wracked by four decades of war. In Vietnam students worked with children with physical disabilities caused by the multi-generational impact of the American toxin Agent Orange. In Germany students learned of the power of the Reformation leaders in revitalizing the church and wrestled with the church’s often silent participation in the atrocities of the Second World War.
Cross-cultural experiences like these have the power to transform our students’ outlook so when they graduate they truly have a global perspective. Emerging from the pandemic, FPU Global Education hopes to enable more students to transform their worldview. We plan to continue semester-long programs with partner organizations in Costa Rica and Guatemala, add an option for the arts in Austria and renew shorter summer programs in Guatemala, Turkey, Israel and Croatia.
As we slowly emerge from the throes of a global pandemic we hope is for students to continue learn to view the world through a global perspective. This perspective is shaped by our understanding of God as far larger than the United States or the West, a perspective of God revealed in part in the voices of the less fortunate and vulnerable. Experiencing a small part of that world and talking to and living with people around the world is an important part of trying to gain that global perspective.