Jerol Enoch

If anyone deserves the title of “international ambassador” at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, it’s Jerol Enoch. As coordinator of international programs in the Center for International Studies, he hosts groups of campus visitors from Asia’s major capitals for stays of one week to six months.

“I make sure everyone is in the right place at the right time, that they have a place to stay, are well-fed and reasonably happy,” Enoch said. The groups number anywhere from eight to 42 individuals living on campus, attending classes and learning first hand about American language, culture, education systems and politics.

Enoch’s schedule, especially during the summer months, looks like one long field trip. He’s been to the Arch 10 times since June. He never tires of St. Louis Cardinals baseball games, the City Museum, the University City Loop and always includes at least one float trip for the college students from Tokyo. He’s quick to point out the international programs always have academic components with some fun and games.

“Last spring we had 25 young leaders from the Moscow School of Political Studies, an independent, nongovernmental, nonprofit organization that fosters the development of civil society and democratic institutions in Russia,” he said.  “They met with (St. Louis Mayor) Francis Slay, (St. Louis County Executive ) Charlie Dooley and numerous other elected officials to learn more about our democratic society.”

The group also spent a day on campus with UMSL faculty from the Department of Political Science and the Public Policy Administration program.

“And then they traveled to Herculaneum, Mo., to learn about the grassroots efforts of the residents in that community to reduce lead contamination from the Doe Run smelter,” he said.

Although all students are housed in residence halls and apartments on campus, Enoch secures host families for most of the students. Depending on the length of stay for the various groups, host families invite a student into their home for a weekend.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to learn about a different culture, and the students get to see first hand how an American family lives,” said Cindy Vantine, director of special events at UMSL and a host family member. “We shop at a mall, see a movie, invite other friends and family over for a barbecue. It’s a lot of fun.”

This year students, teachers and principals from high schools in Beijing arrived in waves for programs designed to recruit students for full time study at UMSL. Twenty-five principals spent a week on campus in the spring. This summer, 25 Chinese teachers spent three weeks in intensive English as a Second Language classes and teacher training programs. And two groups of students each spent 10 days immersed in a program on American culture, language and science.

“We had students role playing various American celebrities interacting with historic figures. Michael Jackson talking to George Washington was the best,” he said.

Enoch also made two trips to Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville, Ill., while the group studied Native Americans.

A small group of Korean teachers will spend six months taking classes at UMSL and one day each week in a local high school classroom.

According to Enoch, most of the campus visitors speak English, some come with interpreters, and he has learned there are some universal languages, like baseball.

“It’s been really hot this summer, so we set up a baseball game with Nerf balls and bats in the Summit Lounge in the J.C. Penney Conference Center,” Enoch said. “Everyone had a great time and the only language problem we had was trying to explain the difference between a baseball, a softball and a ball that is soft (Nerf ball).”

Another universal language is shopping. One recent Saturday afternoon, groups of students from the College of Business at Rikkyo University in Tokyo met up with each other and their host families at West County Mall in Des Peres, Mo. It was agreed, clothing prices in the U.S. are less than in Tokyo.

Enoch said the job is not without its anxious moments. Buses don’t show up, it rains the day of the float trip and visitors oversleep and get sick.

“A teacher called me last week saying there was a wasps’ nest outside the window and a student inside who was allergic,” he said. “You learn to roll with it.”

Enoch, who lived and worked in Eastern Europe for seven years, has been at the university for 10 years and is working on a doctorate in education. His research involves how immigrants and new Americans see themselves in American history.

Enoch said he is always looking for more host families and especially encourages UMSL faculty and staff to participate. UMSL students can also become part of the program by being a friend to a visiting student, meeting them for lunch or an evening out.

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Maureen Zegel

Maureen Zegel