While there, they represented Lee University at a convention of two international higher education groups at SIAS University in Xinzheng, which is also in Henan Province. The gathering there, of the International Association of Universities and the Association of Universities in Asia and the Pacific, conducted business and then went as an honored delegation to the centennial celebration.
“It was amazing,” said Carolyn Dirksen, who is vice president for Academic Affairs at Lee, and also an honorary professor at Henan University. “They stopped traffic in a city of 5 million people so our bus could get to the ceremony.”
The Dirksens spent a year teaching English at Henan University through the English Language Institute in 1984 and began a relationship with the institution that has been developing ever since.
She said of their original work there, “It was really one of the first exchange relationships between a university in the U.S. — particularly a Christian university — and a university in China. This country and its people, especially those we worked with at these two colleges, have held a special place in our hearts since then.”
In the recent ceremonies, the Dirksens received honor as official delegates but also as old friends; in turn they honored the host school celebrating 100 years. As official Lee representatives, they presented a crystal flame as a congratulatory gift to Henan University’s president, Lou Yuangong.
“We were blown away by how spectacular the celebration was and by the feeling of welcome. It was inspiring,” Dirksen said.
Centennials being rare, Henan had reason to pull out all the stops. Lee University will celebrate the same milestone in only five years. So the Dirksens’ trip around the world may end up providing ideas for practical use very soon.
Originally founded to train Chinese scholars to study abroad, Henan University began teaching Chinese as a second language in 1985. Since then, more than 3,000 overseas students have been admitted. Going back as far as 1986, students from Lee have studied at Henan University as part of Lee’s exchange, and Lee graduate Callie Smith is currently teaching there. Lee is also hosting a student from Henan, Yan Wei.
Presently, Henan University maintains 11 branches of learning: liberal arts, science, engineering, economics, management, law, philosophy, education, history, agriculture and medicine. It consists of 26 schools and teaching departments.
SIAS International University is located in Xinzheng, a suburb of Zhengzhou in Henan Province. Founded with less than $2 million, it has grown from 250 students to 16,000, many of whom say they chose SIAS because of the American-style campus life.