Sam and Stephanie San
For Berea College alumnus Sam San ’94, his alma mater’s mission to improve lives with love over hate has always been entwined with his Christian faith, starting with learning of Berea through his childhood pastor.
As high school graduation approached for San’s older brother, Manuel San ’92, their pastor recommended Berea, where their faith, work ethic and immigrant status would be most welcome. The chance to live, learn and worship together at Berea without paying tuition sounded perfect, so perfect they could hardly believe it.
“We thought it was a scam,” San said, smiling. “So my father wrote a letter to (math professor) Dr. J. P. Lee in our first language—Chinese—asking about Berea. To our surprise, Dr. Lee wrote a very detailed reply, in Chinese, telling us all the great things Berea does. He said it was all real.”
After Manuel chose Berea, San set his sights on following him there to study mathematics. The brothers had leaned heavily on each other growing up as ethnic minorities in the Dominican Republic. San was only 7 when his family left Taiwan to make a new home in the island nation, where their native language is spoken by less than 0.5 percent of the population. But at Berea, the brothers felt a sense of belonging founded in Berea’s fifth Great Commitment to “the kinship of all people…as a foundation for building community among all peoples of the earth.”
To this day the brothers still live and work near each other in St. Louis, where San’s kindness and faith have led him to serve the elderly as the chaplain for an assisted-living facility. His faith also led him to his wife, Stephanie, when the two met at a church in Virginia, where Stephanie had studied and worked since leaving Taiwan at age 19. Sharing a native tongue and unshakeable faith drew the two together, and through their love, Stephanie’s appreciation of the liberal arts education San earned at Berea College has deepened with each passing year. She attended George Mason University for a bachelor’s and earned her master’s degree at American University.
“Classes for my computer science degrees were so focused on technical issues, the job side,” Stephanie said. “But as I got close to Sam, I learned how well-rounded he and his education are—and he got his degree in math. I love how Berea focuses on humanities, too, which I think gives a good perspective to go with job skills. It’s really wonderful.”
The broad worldview San honed at Berea College, along with his experience as an international student, give him an even deeper appreciation for how the College allocates resources for international and out-of-state students while maintaining its commitment to low-income Appalachian students.
“Berea invests locally, but it makes a place at the table for out-of-state and international students like my brother and me,” San said. “This is why we trust Berea as a channel for the blessings God has given us. Through Berea, our money helps people who truly are in need. “That’s why I have given to Berea ever since I graduated 26 years ago,” he added. “Like God’s grace, which I was not entitled to, He gives it freely. If we can pass His grace on to others, we always will.”