Advice from Asia

My husband, Fred, Stephen Bayer, the Vice President for Advancement and Alumni Relations, and I recently returned from Asia where we had the privilege to visit with students, alumni, and parents in Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, and Seoul. These members of our community in Asia are quite eager to hear the news from campus. They asked questions about academic study, community life, the beauty of the campus, athletics, and career services. There was a great deal of discussion about how “global” we are and should be. In particular, alumni and parents want to know if we are doing all we can to prepare students for our increasingly global times. We heard good ideas about recruiting students from Asian countries such as having our current students translate our admissions videos into languages such as Mandarin, Cantonese, and Japanese. We received many offers of help in recruiting students, developing mentoring exchanges, and expanding our internship programs. Throughout our trip we found the conversations far outlasted the scheduled length of the events themselves, with alumni and parents lingering and engaged in extensive conversations with us, and with one another.

President Rebecca Chopp speaks to a group during her travels in  Asia

President Rebecca Chopp speaks to a group in Seoul, South Korea

The generosity of the hospitality we experienced was truly remarkable. We had a home-cooked feast in the home of a current student, an eight-course banquet in Taipei, and a remarkable dinner at a local diner specializing in Peking duck in Hong Kong. In Seoul we visited the National Museum of Seoul, enjoyed a wonderful Korean lunch hosted by a student, and had many engaging conversations. At a well attended reception two of our current students translated my remarks into Korean. The excellence of the hospitality we experienced was complimented by the abundance of expressions of support we heard along our travels. Throughout our trip, as we have experienced elsewhere, alumni tell us how Swarthmore prepared them for selective graduate programs and challenging jobs. Many of our alumni in Hong Kong work in finance, media and governmental service and everyone expressed deep appreciation for the academic rigor, the sense of values and the importance of community at Swarthmore. In Tokyo we discovered that 15 Japanese ambassadors have attended Swarthmore and the current Deputy Minister of the Foreign Ministry is a Swarthmore graduate.

In Japan we also had a once-in-a-lifetime experience when two Swarthmore graduates took us to the Meiji Shrine where we had “top seats” at an exhibition of Japanese martial arts. We then were honored by being treated to a special presentation of our “regards and prayers” at a prayer ceremony and then a very special lunch with the top priest of the Shinto Temple. Needless to say, we had countless questions and the priests obliged us with a full tutorial on Shintoism. There were many other highlights of our visit to Tokyo including a remarkable visit to Tokyo National Museum to view Japanese Art History.

We also had the good fortune to meet with a number of parents. These parents, who make the extraordinary decision to support their children in going half-way around the world for a type of undergraduate education that is not available in Asia, are quite eloquent about the importance of the liberal arts. One parent pointed out that a Swarthmore education helped his son learn to be comfortable with change and with ambiguity. Another parent emphasized the role of values in education that a liberal arts curriculum provides.

In Hong Kong I enjoyed learning more about the efforts to reshape their educational system on a “liberal education” model similar to that in the U.S.; there will now be four years instead of three and the first year will follow a liberal arts model before the student chooses a professional track. Obviously, this is not the same as our system, but still signals recognition of the importance of the liberal arts in support of the acquisition of a breadth of knowledge and the expansion of critical and creative thinking.

In each of these four wonderful cities we met fascinating people and had rich cultural and artistic experiences. I remain convinced that strengthening our ties to Asia, as well as other parts of the world, is critical to the College’s future. Students from abroad contribute a great deal to our campus and we should make sure for our future that our connections not only remain strong, but expand. Many of our faculty and alumni have built a strong base in Asia for future connections and we aim to build upon that foundation to strengthen the College and its relationships around the world.