It’s holiday season, and the Tulsa community will be embracing international students who cannot go home for the festivities. The “International Family Connect,” run by the International Center and started last year, is an initiative connecting ORU staff and alumni with international students.
“I need to expose students to the reality of American culture,” said Dr. Marcela Chaván, International Center director. “Keeping them [at the dorms] is not empowering them. If these are the leaders of different nations, they need to understand how Americans are, how they think and how they react. This is why I am doing this for internationals, and, at the same time, [it] adds benefits to the host family.”
The program is filling a need for the international community. The program will not only give students a place to be during the holidays, but also offer a family to host them sporadically during breaks. So far, the support from the ORU family has met the need.
“Being part of ORU goes far beyond being part of a particular class,” said Chaván. “[Hosts] are willing to extend that sense of belonging to internationals coming from all over the world. It is easier to host people from your own culture, that speaks your language and eat your food, but bringing someone different from you, it is truly a manifestation of community as God’s kingdom.”
Chaván held back tears as she thought of the students who are forced to stay behind during the holidays due to finances.
“I know that for them it is the most difficult season of the year,” said Chaván. “We just don’t want to see how difficult that is.”
This initiative is not new to Assistant Professor of Media Chris Putman, who hosted people who weren’t able to go home long before ORU launched International Family Connect. For Putman, acts of kindness turned out to be long-lasting relationships.
“It seems once you open your house to students, you make a special connection that can’t be made just in the classroom,” said Putman.
Some international students spend more than a year without going home, and finding a family helps them cope with being away from their families.
Mongolian ORU transfer student Wuyinga Shen created lasting relationships with families at her previous college and hopes she can make the same relationships in Tulsa.
“If I go back to Dallas, I can just give [my host family] a call,” said Shen. “They consider me their daughter.”
The overarching goal, beyond Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas break, is to create a sense of belonging while students are cultures apart from their family.
“Ten years from now, when we have an alumni reception, [students] won’t fly with mom, dad and uncles, but they will have a mom, dad and uncle here in the city,” Chaván said. “It is not [an initiative] that is going to go out two weeks from now.”