The following story was featured in the Fall 2020 Providence Magazine. CLICK HERE to read the full magazine.
Thy Kingdom Come in China
By Sevana Richmond
In the midst of a global pandemic, Samuel Fennema ’19 is navigating his first year as an educator in China, serving at a multi-ethnic expatriate school. After overcoming the initial culture shock last Fall, he began to feel the abundant blessings of the position he was in. What came next was completely unprecedented: a virus that gripped the world and changed its course, less than six months into his first year. Rather than be discouraged, Fennema pivoted and ultimately adapted his class to be taught remotely for the remainder of the school year. This Fall, he is reenergized and prepared to resume in-person instruction. Fennema shared, “Most of my students attend school in person everyday. In a class size of 18, only a few are online still as they wait for their visas. I am excited for this year of teaching, always praying Thy Kingdom come.”
Teaching in a classroom thousands of miles away from the familiarity of his home has given Fennema a context for the lessons he learned as a student himself. One of the classes he teaches, titled Character Development, is an introduction to Worldview and Philosophy for middle school students. In this class, Fennema carries on what he was taught at Providence by having students explore their whole self, the complexity of their identity, and how they relate to major questions of worldview.
Fennema reflected on how Providence taught him that the Reformed Worldview permeates every aspect of creation, and, now, though in a different way, he is able to pass along this same truth to his students. “My liberal arts education taught me to look at each aspect of the world critically, looking for presuppositions that are clouding my ability to see something clearly, and asking questions of context,” he said. “My classes taught me that the multicultural and diverse nature of humanity is what makes the liberal arts so beautiful and important.”
Fennema’s greatest joy as an educator, however, comes from building relationships with today’s youth. Many of the children in his class move all over the globe for their parents’ jobs. Much like a college student in a new city for a brief time, they could easily be passed over if someone does not intentionally seek to connect with them. “When I was in college, I had many adults who took the time to invest in me,” Fennema remembers. “I want to model my life similarly, because I truly never know how long the children will stay in my class. Relationships are the reason I was brought to Providence and especially the reason I stayed.”
When he’s not making lesson plans, Fennema spends most of his time exploring the local area. Every Tuesday evening, he attends “English Corner” at the University, where English speakers help the local Chinese students practice their conversational English. “Most of their questions are about America and always wanting to compare it to China to see which country I like better.”
Fortunately for Fennema, he also had the opportunity to get some travel in before the coronavirus travel restrictions went into effect. He was able to go all around Southeast Asia, spending a week in Thailand and later helping lead a student services trip in Laos over the Chinese New Year.
Although teaching in China has been an incredible opportunity for Fennema, he often thinks of the community he built here in Pasadena. “With how small Providence is, you build a bond with everyone around you regardless of how similar or different you are, and I am grateful for everyone I got to know while attending Providence. I really am thankful for each one of them. Most of all, I’m thankful for the professors and staff who invested in me those four years; I can never repay that time, it was all grace.”
*Due to the religious nature and location of the institution where Fennema is employed, we are unable to disclose the name of the organization.