Immigration is a seemingly controversial topic in society today. Why is this the case? What about people from different countries choosing a new home scares us? It is an honor to have more diversity, more perspective and more opportunities represented throughout the United States. It is an honor to host and welcome people from other countries and it is a unique and irreplaceable learning experience.
Oxford Languages defines immigration as, “The action of coming to live permanently in a foreign country.” Immigration has such intentionality, reasoning and hope in varying levels of its definition. John Brown University’s Billy Stevenson, senior director of international programs, shared with us his immigration story to America, but more specifically, to Northwest Arkansas.
Stevenson described JBU as “a wonderful place for me to grow and develop … I began at JBU as an undergraduate student in 1985, one of fourteen international students. Upon graduation, I was offered a position at JBU as an associate registrar, which I accepted,” he continued saying. “I then became the director of international students, and it has been my privilege to serve in that position from 1991. JBU encouraged me to develop study abroad programs and mission programs around the globe.”
One of the first programs Stevenson developed was missions and studies trips in Mexico. “Then other destinations and other faculty began to get on board and lead trips to various destinations. In 1994, we took our first mission team to Northern Ireland,” Stevenson said. “In 1997, we started the Irish Studies summer program, and this has been going every year since. Soon after that, we started the Irish Studies fall semester program, and it has again been very successful, going every single year. Today we have a campus in Northern Ireland that operates 12 months of the year with study teams.”
Stevenson is one of many immigrants that call JBU home. He has impacted the JBU campus and students’ experiences around the world. However, it has not always been easy. Immigration means leaving behind culture, heritage and familiarity for a completely new beginning—a process of adjusting to a brand new area of the world.
Stevenson describes his struggles while immigrating to the United States, saying, “… it was not all easy. Often being misunderstood, or misunderstanding has been a real factor in my experience. It has often been an uphill climb, hard work and in the early days, [questioning] ‘will I be able to fit in here?’” However, Stevenson went on to say, “Persistence is one of my qualities and perhaps it is persistence that has allowed me to not only fit in but flourish.”
Immigrants have shaped JBU as we know it today. They have brought culture, diversity and parts of their country to further and grow our community. Engaging in in-depth learning and rich conversations with people from other countries will expand one’s worldview personally and globally. JBU students are blessed to live in a welcoming community with more than 50 countries represented. The JBU community should push ourselves further than ever before and learn the value of immigrants and diversity within our community.
Photo: Daria Hall, The Threefold Advocate