Robert Bethke found out about LCC a long time ago through John Brown University, a CCCU school in Arkansas where he did his undergraduate degree. Later, he was in contact with Dr. Melanie Humphreys, a former VP of Student Life at LCC. Now, Robert is a Fulbright Researcher working on his Ph.D. in higher education from Azusa Pacific University, in California. While Robert is teaching and working on his Ph.D. by researching global citizenship, his wife and their three children are enjoying their time in Klaipėda, getting to know the students, and having the experience of exploring the world.
Robert, how did you find out about LCC?
Azusa Pacific University helped me to facilitate it, but I learned about LCC at least 10 years ago. I went to a similar CCCU (Council for Christian Colleges and Universities) school, John Brown University, so I heard about LCC there. While I was a student I got curious about LCC, as it was one of the only CCCU schools in Europe. In the back of my mind, I always thought that LCC might be an interesting place to visit someday or work at. As I was looking for my dissertation options, one of the other graduates from Azusa Pacific University was Melanie Humphreys, who used to be a VP for Student Life at LCC. She spoke highly of LCC, so I thought it would be interesting to study the students here as part of my dissertation. Melanie connected me with the President of LCC, Dr. Marlene Wall. After that conversation, I was invited to apply to LCC and for the institution to be my host for the Fulbright. One year later, here I am with my family in Lithuania.
As a Fulbright Scholar, could you explain more about your research for your Ph.D. studies?
As part of my Ph.D. studies, I am technically a Fulbright student researcher. My particular interest is in global citizenship and higher education. I am looking at how LCC students identify themselves as global citizens and what factors of the LCC community or campus might contribute to their growth or development in that area.
How do you think faith affects global citizenship?
In my view, global citizenship is the obvious precursor to “kingdom citizenship." Christ calls us to work toward the kingdom of God on Earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). Global citizenship is less of a political concept and is more of a recognition that each human is made in the image of God, each person on earth has deep worth, and therefore we should consider each culture and nation as part of one community that God loves. Global citizenship, therefore, is at the heart of Christian discipleship and mission, particularly when we insist that all nations and cultures are treated as God sees them: with equal worth, where no nation is more important than another. It is one of the many reasons why I see LCC as a very special institution that is uniquely carrying out God’s purposes for the world.
Researching global citizenship at LCC might be challenging since there are students from more than 50 countries on campus. How do you plan to go about your research?
I will be administering an online survey that is written and designed so that students will identify themselves and will respond to what global citizenship is in their minds. I am interested to find out how campus experiences connect to that identity. However, I am also curious to know how each individual student perceives the term of a global citizen because it can mean so many different things. One can look at it from an environmental perspective, or more political or more ethical. I am excited about the research and what data I will be able to gather.
Your educational and professional backgrounds seem to be diverse. After completing a BA in Theology and Religious Vocations, you finished an MS in Business Leadership and Ethics and later another MA in Theology and Arts. And you have diverse professional experiences, from working at a communications office to working as a producer. How can you explain this diversity of educational and professional backgrounds?
I think I have a hard time settling in on one thing. I hope that all of the different experiences I have had, from film-making to communications work and international advocacy, will contribute to my perspective that I can bring to research and teaching. It is not that all of my interests were far from each other, meaning there were no radical shifts in studies or profession choice; all of them are somewhat related. My main interest is to help particularly North American and western students who have a certain amount of privilege see beyond their own privileged lives and recognize that there is a large world of other humans outside of the US and Europe. There are many people who live very different lives and deserve the same privileges and lives of comfort. If we can learn to see one another as part of one global community, I feel that we can start to work together to solve some of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. We cannot ignore the need to work with multiple nations in order to solve these things. We cannot live in isolation and say that we will take care only of our country; it is unrealistic to live that way. I am hoping that I can help students look beyond this kind of mentality.
How are you and your family adjusting to life in Klaipėda and work at LCC?
This is certainly the first time many of us have lived abroad for an extended period. We are adjusting to our new lives here very well. The LCC community has been fantastic in helping us to feel acclimated. With Fulbright and LCC, we feel very spoiled in some ways. My family, especially the kids, are excited to meet the students from the NGO class that I teach, and they are having a really great time here. We are grateful for the resources and a community that is very welcoming. We are enjoying our lives here, and also have the freedom to travel a bit if we want to. Since our children are home-schooled while in Klaipėda, we have this flexibility to go to different places and explore.
We have been very impressed with the community here at LCC and the quality of the students that choose to be a part of life here.