May 4, 2006
Teaching in China has become a tradition at Oklahoma Baptist University. Since 1987, OBU has sent 17 teams of about 10 students to Xinjiang University in Urumqi. During a five-week period, they teach English to Chinese students and learn about the country through relationships with its people.
One reason the program is successful is the work of Jean Gassett, OBU’s program coordinator in China. A 1988 team member, she had a desire to live in China after a previous journey to Asia.
“On my first trip to China, I was convinced I was going to go back there and live,” she said. “Somebody recommended OBU to me, talking about the China program that was just getting started at the time. I wanted to go to a Christian university, and the China program was a triggering aspect that sold me on coming to OBU.”
Gassett quit her job in Colorado Springs and moved to Shawnee, Okla., earning her bachelor’s degree in business education. After her graduation in 1992, the timing was right for her to become the coordinator of OBU’s China studies program. She has filled the role for 14 years.
She has been back to the states three times since taking the coordinator position. In early April, she visited the OBU campus and received a certificate from OBU President Mark Brister during the university’s weekly Chapel service.
“Jean has done incredible work in China,” said Dr. Brister. “We appreciate her service in helping to continue our partnership with Xinjiang University, and keeping it going strong.”
Gassett said she enjoys sharing the experience of students coming to China on the annual short-term assignments. It is unique because of the work with Chinese university students, who also serve as guides to the culture. She has witnessed the impact on OBU students.
“It’s life changing,” she said. “I have seen students change their majors after visiting China. Some have come back to serve in other areas, and I know others who have gone to other countries and either teach or get involved in business. The impact of this program has affected every student who has participated.”
Gassett maintains contact with many OBU students who have taught in China. She works with some regularly. Some live nearby.
“I can come back to OBU and see Elizabeth Finch (OBU community ministry coordinator) who came to China in 1994,” she said. “The contact I have with everybody who comes to China is special. Every team had its own uniqueness, and I can reflect about all of the participants and what happened during their visit. I would love to cross paths with some of the people who went on the trips in the ‘80s and see what they are doing now.”
Returning to campus also allows her to visit friends who taught her on Bison Hill. Her friendship with Dr. Carol Humphrey, OBU professor of history, began when Humphrey was a dorm director and Gassett was a resident assistant.
“She was a close friend to me during that time,” said Gassett. “I was older than most students, so we related since we were in similar age groups.”
Dr. Mack Roark, retired professor of Bible, also is a long-time friend. He was instrumental in starting the China program while serving as OBU’s vice president for spiritual life.
“Dr. Roark has been a great influence in my life,” she said. “I enjoyed his teaching and the support he gave me during my time at OBU.”
Gassett has come far from her Vermont roots. Her desire to travel and her love for China have allowed her to see the world herself, as well as encourage others to experience the Asian culture.
“I wish all OBU students would take advantage of the China project,” she said. “They would do more than what a normal tourist would do. They would make friendships, help other university students, and impact lives – including their own.”