Family connects deeply with China, people

Randall Waldron’s family motto, “When we have a chance to travel, we take it,” has led them to the other side of the world and back. Waldron is the newest economics and international business professor at John Brown University.

This passion for international travel began as a side interest. Several years ago, Waldron and his wife, Lisa, got involved with a group at his church as part of International Students, Inc. The group sought to reach out to international students by meeting their needs and helping them adjust to American culture.

Shortly after, Waldron helped form the East Asia Institute at the University of South Dakota, which was designed to recruit graduate students, especially from China.

This began a series of Asian trips for Waldron and eventually his family.

His first trip was during spring break of 2002. Waldron traveled with a group from a Christian university where he served as faculty adviser.

“I went to check it out for a week. I came back saying I wanted to do it again,” Waldron said.

To facilitate his desire to return to China, Waldron sought a grant from the Fulbright Program, a program designed to increase cultural understanding between Americans and people from other countries. He succeeded, earning the ability to spend the 2006-2007 academic year in the capitol and teach at Beijing Jiaotong University.

This time he brought his wife and their three daughters, Kathryn, Marianna and Olivia, along.

They had the opportunity to watch the Bird’s Nest being built for the 2008 Olympics, see the Great Wall of China and learn some Chinese, among many other adventures.

Olivia and Marianna, who were ages 7 and 10 respectively, said since they were home educated not much changed with school; they just incorporated Chinese learning into their education.

Lisa said the girls’ biggest “adventure” was Marianna’s 14-day hospital stay in Beijing after her ruptured appendix went undetected for nearly five days.

The family returned a third time in spring 2011, when Waldron took a leave of absence to spend a semester teaching in a remote part of southwest China at Honghe College. He and his family were among the 15 or so Americans in a city of a quarter million.

“We wanted to know the interior of China more. The big cities and colleges are flooded with foreigners, especially Americans. We were looking for a cultural experience where we could see a different part of China and really be able to make a difference,” said Waldron.

The girls giggled as they described the Chinese peoples’ reactions to their American looks. Marianna’s blonde hair constantly drew attention. Olivia said she was roller skating one time and a couple scooped her up, snapped a picture with her, and set her down again.

“Picture taking was so interesting,” said Marianna. “One day I had more than 16 photos with complete strangers.”

Olivia, now 13, said she ate many different kinds of food in China and that “food here doesn’t bother me.”

Marianna, currently 15, agreed that her China experience made her see the world differently.

“I have a wider worldview,” she said. “I kind of contrast everything now. I think about how things would be different in the other place.”
Waldron said their time in China had a huge impact on the family. “We probably wouldn’t be at JBU without that international experience,” he said.

Kathryn, now 20, is a junior studying economics and international relations at Wheaton College. When she went off to college, Waldron began thinking of the benefits of teaching at a Christian college and began exploring options.

Waldron looked at many job listings on the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities website.

“Only one school, JBU, was looking for both someone to do economics and develop international programming,” he said. “It sounded good. I wasn’t sure, but I sent a letter of inquiry.”

The choice was not an easy one. The kids had grown up in South Dakota, and Waldron had tenure, retirement and reputation at the University of South Dakota, where he had taught for 18 years. But the opportunities for Asian travel were disappearing and Waldron and his wife wanted to return to the South, so John Brown University looked like a good opportunity.

After several months of silence, Waldron was asked to interview in March of 2012. His family came with him. They visited again to search for houses after he was accepted for the position this summer.

“It was a major family move, so we wanted to involve everyone,” he said.

Lisa said their habit of travelling prepared them for the move. “We are always up for the next adventure and open to new things, whether China or Arkansas,” she said.

Waldron said his passion for international travel and learning was the main draw of the University for him.

“For a small school, JBU already has a wealth of international activity,” said Waldron.

While the University is strong in both Europe and Latin America, Waldron is tasked with building the Asian programs. He is excited about traveling to Guatemala on the spring break trip, because it will be his first time in that country.