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Apr 5, 2024 | Blog


By: Dr. Emily Roche, Visiting Professor of Mathematics, Department of Computer & Information Technology, Africa Nazarene University 

Understanding and appreciating diverse cultures and perspectives is essential to truly belonging to a global community. It emphasizes the depth of knowledge that one should possess about different cultures to break down stereotypes and build genuine connections.  

It is with this in mind that two universities, Africa Nazarene University (ANU) situated in Ongata Rongai, Kenya, and Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) located in Nampa, Idaho, USA, partnered to serve as beacons for the “Know Belonging” concept. The two universities came together to create a unique exchange program with the aim of enriching the academic and cultural experiences of both their students and faculty. This partnership is significant in transforming the participants into global citizens because they learn that the world is a diverse, interconnected place, and they play an integral role in it. This perspective prepares them to take on global challenges with empathy and understanding. 

The ANU-NNU exchange program allows students and faculty to travel to and from their respective universities and immerse themselves in a different culture where they are able to exchange cultural ideas, traditions and worldviews. This exposure to diverse cultures fosters an environment where differences are celebrated rather than feared, and a spirit of inclusivity is thus well-nurtured. 

The exchange program also allows the extension of the learning boundaries beyond the classroom as the participants not only attend classes but also engage in various cultural activities and community service projects. For instance, we joined the community in the Halloween “trick or treat” games and Thanksgiving celebrations. By doing this, we gained insights into United States culture, and I believe we forged deeper connections that transcend geographical boundaries. Spending time in this country has helped us discover that many of the stereotypes and preconceived notions we held about US culture are inaccurate, thus breaking down barriers and promoting a sense of belonging.  

I participated in this program as a faculty member from ANU. I had the privilege to join the program in the company of my 9-year-old daughter, Marjorie, as I left the rest of my family—my husband, Dr. Charles Roche and my two sons, Michael (21, class of 2023 Computer Science graduate from ANU) and James (18, Computer Science freshman at ANU), back home. My participation in this program was a decision that had mixed feelings of joy and sorrow from my family members and me, as it was the first time I ever intended prolonged absence in my family life. I, however, do not regret the decision to come over despite being homesick for a couple of weeks after arrival.  

Prior to arriving, I had a series of virtual meetings with key participants in the exchange program, namely Dr. S. Bradley Kurtz-Shaw, Mr. Joe Willey, Dr. Chadwick Pearsall and Rev. Richard Vasquez. These meetings made the arrival and settling down process a little easier. A virtual meeting to get to know a little about my professional and social interests with Dr. Dale Hamilton—the chair of my host department—made me feel appreciated and ready to dare the exchange. 

As a faculty member involved in a cultural exchange program between ANU and NNU, my personal experiences have been both rewarding and enlightening. Facilitating the exchange between students from different continents has allowed me to witness the transformative power of cross-cultural interactions on both individuals and communities. 

On arrival, Dr. Chadwick—Director of Global Connections, assisted by Mrs. Elena Willey—took it upon themselves to make sure my daughter, Marjorie, got enrolled at Sherman Elementary School, got to school in time and was picked up on time, before securing the busing services. As I settled into my designated desk, Dr. Jamee Nixon, Dean of the College of Natural and Applied Sciences, welcomed me to the department and dusted my desk as I watched. What a humbling display of servant leadership. Through my stay here, Prof. Mary Schmitt and Dr. Janet Stellway ensured that I not only got to the grocery store on a weekly basis but also confirmed that I had all that I needed, too. Mr. Joe Willey ensured we had access to all movie series we had ever wished to watch, which kept boredom at bay. 

One of the most notable aspects of this exchange program is the genuine curiosity and enthusiasm displayed by students as they navigated the new cultural landscape— for both the ANU students at NNU and the NNU students having a learning facilitator from ANU. The eagerness to learn about each other’s backgrounds created a dynamic and vibrant learning environment. 

During my stay here, I had the honor of facilitating the learning of one Mathematics unit—Trigonometry. The class size was smaller than I was used to at ANU, but that equally formed part of the exchange experience. In the classroom, I observed the organic exchange of ideas that went beyond academic subjects. My NNU students naturally brought their cultural perspectives into discussions, enriching the educational experience for both the students and myself. This not only broadens the students’ understanding of diverse viewpoints but also encourages a sense of mutual respect and collaboration. 

Beyond the academic setting, the impact of the exchange program resonates deeply within the community. Communities surrounding NNU became an integral part of our cross-cultural journey. Starting with our time of arrival, we had part of the community become host families to the students, and these families have walked with them, giving necessary support as need arose throughout the semester. We have also been invited for a series of lunches and dinners by the members of the community and have attended different worship services on Sundays. The Intercultural Church of the Nazarene was the first to host us on our first Sunday, inviting us to a weekend retreat in McCall, and it became our home church during our stay. Different members of the community took it upon themselves to ensure we visited different parts of Idaho and took us out for road trips, courtesy of the community. 

As you know, movement from place to place without a personal means of transport in Nampa is quite challenging. The NNU community readily availed themselves to provide us with transportation at any given time. Notably, Rev. Gene and Lorita Schandorff, who I was glad to have met earlier at Lakeview Church of the Nazarene, secured bicycles for all of us from ANU to ease mobility. I had to revive my almost 21-year dormant biking skills so as to enjoy biking around, and some of the students who had no skills at all learned the same. These community engagement and service activities not only benefited the immediate surroundings, but have also served as bridges, connecting people from different corners of the world.  

Witnessing students overcoming initial cultural barriers—mainly the food and forming genuine connections—has been a heartening experience for me. This also includes my daughter, who has had an educational experience at Sherman Elementary School. The exchange program has created a microcosm of a global community within the university setting, fostering a sense of belonging that extends beyond national borders. As a faculty member, seeing students evolve into global citizens with a deeper appreciation for diversity is both fulfilling and inspiring. 

Challenges arose, from navigating language differences to addressing cultural misunderstandings, but these challenges contributed to the overall growth and resilience of both the students and myself. My role as a faculty member in this context had to extend beyond traditional teaching; I had to get involved in guiding the ANU students through the intricacies of cross-cultural communication, encouraging empathy and providing a supportive environment for personal and academic development. Based on the students’ social interaction patterns and their academic performance, I affirm that they managed to overcome the challenges. 

In essence, being part of a cultural exchange program is not just about imparting knowledge; it’s about facilitating transformative experiences that shape students’ worldviews and contribute to the broader narrative of global interconnectedness. The ripple effects of these experiences extend far beyond the academic year, creating a lasting impact on the students, the communities involved and, ultimately, the fabric of international relations. 

The ANU-NNU partnership and exchange program beautifully encapsulates the concept of “Know Belonging.” By breaking down stereotypes, promoting cultural exchange and nurturing a sense of tolerance and inclusivity, this concept is a shining example of how international partnerships in higher education can shape the future of our world. As students from different continents come together, they learn not only about each other’s cultures but also about the shared human experience that binds them. Through this partnership, we have discovered that to “know belonging” is to embrace the world as one’s own. 

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