GOSHEN -- When Egyptian businessman Moustapha Ismail Sarhank and German financial expert Steffen Schubert visited Goshen College in September, they left school representatives an open invitation to come visit them in the Middle East.
It's a 13-hour plane trip to a land half a world away, but Goshen College President James Brennemen, along with a group of school board members and supporters, are going to take the men up on their offer on Feb. 19.
"As we go we're finding ourselves to have a number of common values and a common experience of two cultures," Brenneman said. "It's definitely responding to an invitation by them to see how life works for them."
Last fall, Sarhank and Dubai-based Schubert visited the college and delivered a lecture entitled "Doing Business in the Muslim World: Are Western Leadership Concepts Appropriate in Islamic Cultures?" A bond with Goshen College was instantly formed, Brenneman said, and shaped into a trip that will take 16 members of Brenneman's "President's Circle," along with Brenneman and his wife, Terri, to the United Arab Emirates for two days and to Egypt for 11.
The focus of the journey seems rooted in nurturing a precious cross-cultural dialogue. Director of Major Gifts Jim Caskey, also taking the trip, remembers Sarhank's parting sentiments as almost apologetic.
"At the end of our time together he began thanking us with an apology that he didn't come sooner to start building bridges with us," Caskey said. "Personally, I'm very much looking forward to continuing that dialogue and strengthening that relationship. All of this is extending the beginning of the relationships with a few people to this broader group, and then the whole campus."
Brenneman and his group will meet with religious leaders, elected officials, university professors and peace advocates during their stay.
"This potentially has a lot of opportunities yet unknown to us that might be of equivalent importance for the whole college," Brenneman said. "I think it's at a strategic time in our history that we need this interaction."
The trip is a self-funded type of project, Brenneman said, with President's Circle members picking up their own expenses and the Brennemans'. Two other Goshen staff members, Vice President for Institutional Development William Jones and Director of Major Gifts Jim Caskey, are traveling with money set aside from the Development Office.
"It says a lot about the commitment of this group," Brenneman said of the President's Circle, a group whose individuals pledge to donate $25,000 annually to the school. "They could go anywhere in the world, and they have, but they're excited about this particular trip."