“When you make a friendship in another culture, you really begin to value that culture and in a much deeper and meaningful way,” Charlie Brainer said.
As the dean of international programs, higher education adjunct faculty and director of Spencer Centre for Global Engagement, Brainer has had the opportunity to share his passion for global engagement with students, faculty and others.
He strongly believes that connection is at the core of global engagement.
“It's connection in the broadest sense — connection with culture, connection with food, whatever — but the bullseye is connection with people, developing relationships, Brainer said. “I feel like one of the most fortunate things of all my career, including my time at Taylor, is to have partnerships and relationships with people around the world.”
Brainer’s educational journey began at Wheaton College, where he pursued his undergraduate degree. At that time, he did not have a strong interest in missions or global engagement.
While in college, he went on a Holy Land study trip to Israel, Turkey, Greece and Italy. This trip impacted Brainer in ways that he did not expect and ended up causing him to change his major from youth ministry to history and education.
He originally thought that history was what he was most interested in, but over time realized that it was really culture that he had such a spark and passion for.
“It was about culture,” Brainer said. “I was fascinated by different culture and I loved everything we did over there in Turkey and Greece and Israel. I loved the foods, the different foods, the different customs, the different ways that people related. All that stuff was really fascinating to me. At first I thought it was just, I liked history, but it turned out that I really liked culture and was fascinated by that.”
Brainer felt as though God was motivating him to embrace and live out the Great Commission.
He and his wife volunteered for a ministry that worked with international students at universities in Chicago, and it was there that he met a Chinese student for the first time.
“I was so fascinated by the student who knew so little about American culture because China had been closed off for many years,” Brainer said. “So then I think the Lord really put in our hearts an interest in China.”
At that time (the early 1980s), one of the few ways Americans could get to China was through teaching English there.
He decided to go back to school to earn his master’s in linguistics and teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) from the University of Michigan. Then, he and his wife lived in China for two years where Brainer taught English at a university there.
After returning to the United States, Brainer became a faculty member for Colorado State University’s graduate program, where he taught linguistics and TESOL and directed their intensive English program for international students.
He and his wife hosted a weekly Bible study in their home for international students at Colorado State, which was a positive and powerful relationship-building experience.
“In all the places we were, including Colorado, we kept meeting Chinese students and befriending them and having a chance to develop relationships with them,” Brainer said. “So toward the end of our time at Colorado State, we really felt (we were there for seven years) that the Lord was leading us back to China.”
Returning to China in 1997, Brainer worked with an organization that sends English teachers to universities and schools in China.
Brainer did some teaching in China, but mostly focused on administration work, directing programs across the country and working with Chinese officials.
“I went all over the country to so many cities and different provinces to really begin educational projects,” Brainer said. “The organization sought to really teach well in the universities and have opportunities to develop relationships with students and colleagues, and then through those, have an opportunity to really share the hope and the light that was inside of us.”
After coming back to the United States again in 2011, Brainer began working at Taylor University as the director of the Spencer Centre for Global Engagement in 2012.
Since their son had previously attended Taylor, he and his wife knew that the university was a place where they felt comfortable and had a passion for.
As Brainer finishes up his final year at Taylor before retiring, he desires to express his gratitude for the university and the great blessing it has been in his family’s life.
“I want to say thank you to the entire Taylor community: administrators, faculty, students, and just to say that I've really had some great colleagues to work with and to be involved with,” he said. “Whenever I've hit a low point at any point, it's always the students who have buoyed me up — interaction with students — so I'm particularly thankful to the students.”
He hopes that the Taylor community continues to express an excitement and passion for engaging and connecting with people cross-culturally.
Brainer encourages students to never stop being learners and to understand that culture can be found not just afar, but also nearby.
“Don't just think about culture as ‘over there,’” Brainer said. “Look for it as close as possible, as close as across the dormitory floor or the room across from you.”