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Melinda Jordan: a mom away from home for international students

JACKSON, Tenn.Oct. 8, 2002 – Her small office is decorated with flags and tapestries from countries around the world. At home, she has a wide collection of cookbooks that numerous students throughout the years have brought to her. And her office door is always open, usually with an international student sitting in front of her desk, visiting. With all the comfort and guidance she gives these students, no wonder they consider Melinda Jordan, instructor of international studies, a second mom.

“International students will bring me cookbooks from their home countries and they know I will try anything,” Jordan says with a laugh. “I will occasionally cook a ‘homesick meal’ where I fix a student’s favorite food in order to make the students feel at home.”

She did not always see herself working in international studies – she did not even see herself teaching at a university. In fact, Jordan’s original profession was as a registered dietician. Her venture into teaching started on a mission trip to Honduras in 1993:

“I went with a group from Union University on a medical mission there as the cook for the missionaries,” she recalls. “Starting in 1995, I began to work at Union a few hours a week coordinating mission trips, ordering medicine, food and others supplies. I met two students on that trip from Honduras who stayed in my home quite a bit while they were here. That’s when I first realized how many challenges there are for someone coming into a new culture.”

Through these two students, she saw that there was a need that was not being fulfilled. The idea of having a class for international students was born out of the thinking that those students have a harder time than American students, adjusting to both college and a new culture.

So she talked to Cynthia Jayne, director of international and intercultural studies, and asked about starting a program. From that point on, Jordan was a teacher.

The program grew from a small, required course for freshmen students to a fully-scheduled week of orientation. International FOCUS week proved to be so successful and helpful, it was continued and for the past four years, FOCUS leaders have helped international students and missionary kids adjust to life at Union.

“The class itself has evolved and we’ve added an international student organization and an international ambassador program where international students go out into the community and speak about their culture.”

She has also helped students deal with problems such as obtaining driver’s licenses and health insurance as well as other important tasks. Jordan realizes that Jackson does not have a large international community.

“There are very few agencies for dealing with these problems,” she says. “People are not that aware of the needs of international students.”

That’s where Jordan comes in. She makes it her business to help students and to help them meet their needs. She has also worked hard to increase international and global awareness in the community by taking her international students into the local schools and talking about their countries.

“If [a student] has a question, I’m someone they can come to,” she says. “There are everyday life-type details that they need help with all the time.”

Jordan’s interest in other cultures has grown out of her childhood experiences. Her family traveled a lot when she was a kid, so she was able to visit other countries and experience other cultures.

“It was a high priority for my dad to go to other places and see other ways of doing things,” she says. “He always did quite a bit of research before we went so he would have an idea of how the culture worked before we arrived. It gave me a real appreciation of the fact that the way we do things is not the only way that people do things.”

That, combined with the fact that Jordan is a dietician and a cook who loves to experiment with different foods, helped bring her to where she is today.

Although Jordan does not get to travel as much as she used to, she considers meeting and teaching students who have come from all over the world just as enriching as if she was visiting the country herself.

“It’s a different view of a culture when you experience it through a person who has grown up there more than if you were, say, a tourist,” Jordan says. “A tourist is just a spectator to the culture, and that’s just some of the culture. Doing what I do, I get to participate and experience all of the culture. I really enjoy that.”

By Tracie Holden, Class of 2004

Media contact: Sara B. Horn, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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