Every year close to one million international students from around the globe are enrolled as university students here in the U.S. Though they come from a variety of religious perspectives and cultural understandings, they are also open to forming friendships, sharing about their cultures, and learning about American culture as well. And yet, a large number of these students will never have the opportunity to be invited to an American person’s home, much less form a friendship with someone who is a believer in Jesus Christ.
This fall, George Fox University will welcome approximately 80 newly arrived international students, and they will join the 120 internationals who are already enrolled in our school. Our desire is to bless their lives, not only by providing them with a quality education, but also to introduce them to caring people who are a reflection of the reality of Jesus Christ within them. One means through which this goal is accomplished is by the university’s host family program.
Each school year George Fox begins with an orientation planned only for international students. This occurs before the American students arrive on campus. During this time, dormitories are available on our campus for the students to move into, but an empty dorm room is not a welcoming sight, especially in forming a lasting first impression of the students’ arrival in America. Therefore, the International Student Services office at the university recruits families from the local area to host a student or two while they are attending orientation. The families typically host the students for the weekend preceding the orientation and then host them in the evenings during the next few days of the orientation.
This act of hospitality could be seen as a small gesture, but our students’ feedback is that it is a very meaningful experience for newly arrived, uncertain, and anxious students beginning their new life in America. We have also recognized that the impact of this experience is not confined to the students’ lives only. Our families also attest to the great blessing that having these gracious international students have been to them as well.
Polly Peterson, along with her husband, Brent, and their children, Bailey and Maggie, has opened her home to host students over the past few years. Here’s her account of this experience
When Alex Pia from GFU called me a few years back, asking if my family would be willing to host an international student for a few days, I wasn’t sure it would work. My first objection was about the time commitment. I couldn’t see myself entertaining a new acquaintance, all day, for many days in a row. I worried about what I was going to make for breakfast or for dinner (I couldn’t cook Chinese food, and take-out was too expensive!) And I was afraid I would feel uncomfortable in my own home.
Fortunately, I said yes anyway.
First of all, I wasn’t responsible for our guests all day, every day. The students usually had a very full schedule. I would drop them off at GFU around 8:00 AM or 9:00 AM and pick them up around 5:00 PM. When we got back to the house, I told them when dinner would be ready so they could hang out until then. Sometimes they helped me cook. Other times, they were happier resting in their rooms. On weekends, or days when they were not at school, I simply let them know that they were free to take a nap or spend time in their rooms if they needed “down time.” Sometimes I even said, “I need a rest!” and take some time in my room, reading or napping. I have found sharing space was much easier than I imagined.
And I didn’t need to worry about cooking Asian foods, either! They wanted to eat what we were used to eating, even if that meant Cheerios for breakfast and Papa Murphy’s for dinner. I did, however, make sure I had fresh fruit on hand (bananas or oranges, usually) for a quick snack, in case dinner was a bit unusual. Also, I steered away from dishes that were too cheesy (except pizza – I think pizza must be universally loved). And, I confess, I did take them out to eat once or twice.
But here is the most important thing: I have found them to be gracious guests. They were hospitable guests, if that makes sense. They helped me with the dishes, helped me with the dinners, and helped me shop for groceries – as well as giving me space when I needed it. They were patient with my questions and awkward statements as I rephrased them over and over again, finding a shared vocabulary we both understood.
Hosting students introduced my family to another part of the world. It required us to communicate complex ideas with a limited vocabulary. It was only a slight disruption, and in the end, the students got to stay in a home, rather than a lonely dorm; they ate simple family meals, instead of eating Domino’s alone.
I may have gone into the experience intending to show them an example of Christ’s love – and I hope that did happen- but I do know that I felt true charity and graciousness from them.
Would you prayerfully consider the opportunity to serve as a host family during this year’s International Student Orientation? Students will be arriving between August 16 and 17, and the students will be in orientation from August 20 to 22. Please contact Alex Pia, director of international students at George Fox University, for more information or to sign up (firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-554-2643).