September 12, 2008
Samford Prepares for The Asian Century
The nations of the world might as well consider the Beijing Olympics of 2008 the official opening ceremonies for the long-anticipated “Asian century”. With growing wealth, geopolitical influence and demand for consumer goods and petroleum, the region may be the dominant economic and cultural force in coming decades. Samford is one of many U.S. schools hoping to introduce their students to what may be the defining international cultures of their adult lives.
The change is beginning as early as kindergarten in this country. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages is still compiling data for an update of its 2000 study on the subject, but ACTFL Director of Education Marty Abbot said that “every indication is that we’re going to see a huge increase” in Chinese language offerings in U.S. public schools. Likewise, according to the Modern Language Association, in 2006 661 U.S. colleges and universities offered Chinese language instruction and 728 offered Japanese language.
Samford offers instruction in Chinese, Japanese and Thai as part of the World Language Department’s Critical Languages Program. And although Samford also has student exchange agreements with partners in China, South Korea and Indonesia, Samford president Andrew Westmoreland wants to increase the university’s presence in the region. “In assessing our strengths, it appeared to me that we ought to devote more attention to Asia, for reasons so transparent that just about anybody could make the case for support,” he said.
In July Westmoreland visited three Asian universities in the hope of making the best of longstanding relationships and cultivating new ones. Samford already has exchange agreements with two of these institutions--Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) and, most recently, Universitas Pelita Harapan (UPH) in Jakarta, Indonesia. Westmoreland visited those partners during his trip and explored the possibility of a new agreement with Seinan Gakuin University (SGU,) a school with approximately 8,300 students in Fukuoka City, Japan.
In spite of many common threads uniting Samford and SGU, an exchange agreement is not a given. Both schools have Baptist roots. SGU president and Samford alumnus Gary Barkley `77 is “a great friend of Samford,” Westmoreland said. Former SGU faculty member David Johnson recently joined the faculty of Samford’s Department of Biology. Westmoreland knows SGU well due to longstanding partnership between SGU and Ouachita University, Westmoreland’s former presidential post. “In fact, the staff members at SGU are quick to say that the Ouachita exchange program has been among their most successful efforts,” Westmoreland said. But, he added, SGU has many prospective international partners. Before SGU agrees to a formal partnership with Samford, he said, “they’ve got to determine how many exchange relationships they can manage”.
Also, for this or any other exchange program to work, Samford faculty must be interested and involved. “An administrator can create a relationship,” Westmoreland said, “but if it’s going to be sustained faculty have to buy in, which means they have to make visits, they have to develop peer-to-peer relationships, all of those things.” Toward that end, he expects to lead a group of Samford faculty and staff to Jakarta in January 2009. Faculty and student exchanges with UPH might follow within a year or so.
Westmoreland noted that UPH, a private university of approximately 10,000 students, has a law school and many programs that parallel Samford’s. And although Jakarta looks especially promising as a source of internships for Samford business students, Westmoreland said all of Samford’s deans have expressed interest in a two-way exchange with Asian partners. “I’m very pleased with that,” he said, “because I think it means we’ll be able to get a broad base of support and interest early-on”.
A Complete Education
Although the July trip was Westmoreland’s first to Japan, he has visited China many times and witnessed the region’s impressive growth. “Every time you go you’re more impressed with the construction boom, the obvious economic development that’s been taking place in the region,” he said. “They’re driving the world right now, and it’s not just China.” He noted that Vietnam is often described as the new China, and that Indonesia is “far too often overlooked as we discuss Asia and think about relationships”.
“I want us to walk before we attempt to run, so these new ventures will require careful planning and allocation of resources,” Westmoreland said. Clearly, though, Samford must prepare for the Asian Century. “To do otherwise,” Westmoreland said, “would be to provide an incomplete education for our students.