As a nationally and internationally recognized university located in Klaipėda, Lithuania, in eastern Europe, LCC International University has a long tradition of educating students from more than two dozen countries. In spring 2017, they added 15 students from two new countries: Syria and Iraq.
The journey to creating LCC’s Middle East Scholars Program began three years ago, when LCC set out to create a satellite campus in Tbilisi, Georgia. “Very quickly, we recognized how close the Middle East was to that location, and therefore, our focus shifted beyond preparing students from the region to come to LCC but, more directly, [to] preparing war-affected students from the Middle East, particularly Syria and Iraq, to attend LCC Georgia in order to give them enough academic English to prepare them for any English-speaking university in the world,” says Marlene Wall, president of LCC International University.
Before LCC’s leaders could begin admitting students from Syria and Iraq, they first spent years building relationships with a network of Middle Eastern people and organizations in order to provide referrals for potential students. This included numerous trips to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey in order to visit refugee and IDP camps and meet with a broad variety of groups: multiple embassies; church leaders; various United Nations agencies; the International Organization for Migration; local universities; and many international NGOs, such as Samaritan’s Purse, Caritas, and Jesuit Services.
Once the networks had been formed and a formal interview process had been created, the first cohort of students was identified. But that cohort, which was comprised entirely of students from Syria, never made it to the LCC Georgia campus because of an unexpected challenge: getting the students to Georgia.
“We knew exactly which Georgian Embassy in which country would accept students,” Wall says. “For example, a Syrian student would need to go to the Georgian Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. The Georgian Embassy was ready to accept them, but Cairo wouldn’t even let them into the country … to get to the Georgian Embassy to get the Georgian visa to get to Tbilisi.”
Again and again, LCC’s team tried to find countries that would allow its new Syrian students to eventually make their way to Georgia, and again and again, the pathways were blocked. Then, at the beginning of 2017, the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told LCC they could not guarantee any visas for the students. It could have closed the door on all the work LCC had done, but LCC persisted.
“Instead of giving up and thinking that all of our efforts were for nothing, we tried one last possible scenario: What if we could get these students to Lithuania, to LCC International University?” Wall says. “We attempted that – and we succeeded.”
Thus, LCC’s Middle East Scholars Program came into existence. Of the 15 students that came to LCC’s campus in the spring, five are Syrian and 10 are Iraqi. The next cohort of students is already in the process of taking the necessary steps to make its way to Lithuania.
An Unexpected – But Logical – Addition
In many ways, LCC is a logical place to help these students gain the education they need to flourish in their careers and even help rebuild their home countries. Founded in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, LCC’s vision is to “engage students in a transforming educational experience in order to create a generation of leaders for Lithuania, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia who think critically, promote democratic ideals, develop a market economy, and re-build the network of civil society within the context of a Christian worldview.”
“This is exactly the next stage for us [at LCC],” says Aistė Motekaitienė, LCC’s vice president of marketing. “LCC began with a vision to develop future leaders for the countries of the Soviet Union, and we have been doing that successfully for 25 years. … Now there is a need in the Middle East, and we have the skills to provide the education needed.”
Students who come to LCC through the Scholars Program will spend one or two semesters studying and improving their English skills to the level that empowers them to study at any English-speaking university they wish, whether it is at LCC International University or another university elsewhere in Europe or around the world.
Even though the program was originally envisioned to be in Georgia, Wall says there has been tremendous benefit in bringing the war-affected students to Klaipėda for studies, not only for them but for LCC’s student body and surrounding community as well. “[These students] are now in a diverse learning community with students from 30 countries, where English is the common language. I think that has helped them to engage the world, so to speak, perhaps a little more quickly than if they had just been with each other.”
The students are doing well and are integrated and actively involved in LCC’s campus life and in activities around Klaipėda, but challenges still exist. These students are working through severe trauma that they have experienced in just the last few years. Six of the Iraqi students are Yazidis, survivors of the 2014 massacre near Sinjar; the rest are Christians who fled persecution. The students from Syria survived the ongoing Syrian Civil War. “We know we need to become more specialized in trauma recovery,” Wall says.
Despite the challenges, the students are taking full advantage of the opportunity not just to study but to educate others as well. Though it can sometimes be overwhelming and traumatic to be asked repeatedly about their experiences, Motekaitienė says each of the students recognizes the opportunity they have to be “the voice for their people – for people who won’t likely have that chance. … The students are taking on that ambassador role.”
Though the program has and continues to encounter unexpected obstacles, Wall says LCC is making a difference in the region. By now there have been mutual visits and new partnership opportunities with universities and humanitarian and religious leaders from the Middle East.
“We now have students coming from two countries that we never would have expected,” she says. “[Establishing this program] pushed us to test new ideas, and we’re better because of it. But above all we are grateful for the opportunity God has given us to offer education as hope.”
Morgan Feddes Satre is the CCCU’s communications specialist and managing editor of Advance.
How can you support LCC’s work?
By Marlene Wall
Now that a process has been established and students from war-affected areas in the Middle East are integrating into campus life at LCC, we are able to begin focusing on the next steps to help our students flourish – and we are hoping our fellow CCCU institutions can get involved as well. Here are a few ways to do so. To learn more about any option, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GET TO KNOW US
Consider visiting LCC’s campus. LCC has a number of conferences, institutes, and other events that bring in leaders and participants from around the world. Additionally, we host chapel speakers and guest lecturers and are always glad to welcome colleagues from other CCCU institutions who want to learn more about our work.
SHARE YOUR EXPERTISE
For those with trauma recovery expertise, consider assisting LCC’s leaders in providing training for our staff. As more war-affected students come to our campus, the need for staff-wide training in trauma recovery will only increase. We are interested in hosting experts to provide training so that all employees will be better prepared to assist students in addressing their trauma as they pursue their education.
ACCEPT A STUDENT
As the program continues to grow, LCC is developing relationships with universities in North America and around the world that will enroll students into their programs once the students have completed their English training. We’re happy to have these students remain at LCC, but we also know that some of them may want to study in programs that we do not offer, and so we seek to partner with CCCU schools in order to have a list of referral schools for them to choose from.
PRAY WITH US
As the larger CCCU community, may we all be committed to prayer and action – for the voiceless, the under-served, the forgotten, the marginalized. May God’s will be done.
Marlene Wall is the president of LCC International University. She can be contacted at email@example.com.