Kevin Smith, a Wartburg alum of ‘02, shared the importance of being immersed in a culture separate from one’s native culture during his two-day visit to campus on Nov. 6 and 7. Originally from Alabama, he has been to China, Australia, Canada, Germany and France.
Smith visited Dr. Kimberly Folkers’ multinational management class to present about gaining perspective. Smith focused on the cultural assumptions and how these assumptions shape cultures.
“All the assumptions we have that we don’t think about make up the foundation of our culture,” Smith said. “In China, they have a completely different set of assumptions and, as a result, they see things differently, they do things differently.
While attending Wartburg as a student, Smith was a physics major with a math minor and wanted to travel abroad during his time at Wartburg, he said. What really got him excited with studying abroad was his trip to Australia while at Wartburg.
“I was really into astronomy and the southern hemisphere has a totally different set of stars,” he said. “Actually when I was in Australia I had a fellowship at Swinburne University of Technology and I worked at the astro-physics department and I had an opportunity to get some time on the Parkes Radio Telescope, [which] is the radio telescope that received the first signal from the Apollo 11 moon landing.”
After his trip to Australia, Smith started looking into going abroad again. He found a scholarship was available to students which he could use to travel to China.
“Another Wartburg student said, ‘Hey! I’m going to China. Why don’t you go to China with me?’ So I did. Then I just got really interested in China. So when I graduated, I thought that I could do graduate school in physics or I could go to China. Then I thought, ‘Well, if I don’t go to China now, I’m probably not going to do it.’ So I went to China and lived there for five years.”
Smith taught English at Chinese universities through The Amity Foundation as a volunteer.
Throughout his five years in China, he lived in three different places: The Szechuan province, in southwest China, for one year; the Shenyang province, in northeast China, for three years, and then in the city of Beijing for one year.
“It was mostly oral English, and then I taught some culture classes too,” Smith said.
Smith shared a peculiar example of a similarity between China and America, specifically the languages, which he used to help teach his students about English.
“There are four tones in Mandarin Chinese,” said Smith. “We actually have these same four tones in English. When I say the word ‘well’ in each of those tones, it can mean different things depending on the tone.”
Smith and his wife, who is Chinese, currently live in Wisconsin, but they return to China regularly to visit his wife’s family
“Actually, she travels there more often,” Smith said. “I go every one to two years. One day I’d like to go back and live and work in China.”
Smith and his wife were part of a conversation that Dr. Folkers’ class was having over a Harvard case study, involving national enterprise recruiting in China.
“It just happened to work out really well with his visit,” Folkers said. “It was just one of those serendipitous things that we had ended up with this particular case on this particular day and it was one of the two days he happened to be on campus.”
It gave the students a chance to ask both him and his wife some questions about some of the background regarding the case which was something the students were immersed in over the past week, Folkers said.
“It was particularly fun for me because when Kevin was here as a student, it was during the twelve years when I was one of the co-directors of the global and multicultural studies, so he was a study abroad student while I was a part of the study abroad structure,” Folkers said.
“If I were to think of a student who really embodied the embracing of multicultural experiences as an undergrad, he would certainly be at the top of my list,” Folkers said.