How international students find their ‘American family’ at Baylor
If you’ve ever visited another continent, country, even state or city, you’ve experienced what it’s like to be an outsider — to the area’s culture, foods, road system, language and the unspoken rules of everyday interactions. Now imagine having that “outsider” feeling throughout your four years of college, and you’ll know what it can be like to be an international student.
This is where Baylor PAWS (“People Around the World Sharing”) comes in. Headed by International Programs coordinator Melanie Smith (pictured above), it’s comprised of two programs — one which pairs international students with an American Baylor student, and one which pairs international students with a Baylor faculty or staff member to become his/her American “family.” This Baylor family helps them navigate the everyday things we take for granted, such as buying groceries, mailing letters and packages, emailing professors, making doctor’s appointments, etc. And during the holiday season, when most Baylor students head home for Thanksgiving and Christmas break, these families welcome their international students into their homes for traditional American Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
“We have hosted students and professors from many countries — India, Rwanda, Ghana, China, Czech Republic, Bangladesh, Russia, Iran, Greece, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, among others,” says Dr. Joseph McKinney, a retired Baylor business professor, who has been hosting students since the program started more than 25 years ago. “We have always found the intercultural interaction between them and our family to be greatly enriching. To have international visitors frequently in our home when our children were growing up gave them a broader perspective and greater appreciation for people from other countries than they would have had otherwise.”
From the dozens of students McKinney has worked with, three in particular stand out to him:
- The student from Brazil who first saw “Baylor University” on a sweatshirt. This student had become a Christian while in high school and eventually decided she wanted to attend seminary. One day in her home country, she noticed someone wearing a sweatshirt that featured Baylor’s name and website. She checked out the website and decided that Truett Seminary was the place for her. “During her time here, she had no place to stay one summer, so she lived with us for the summer,” McKinney says. “She married another Truett student, and now they have two beautiful children. We have stayed in close contact with them.”
- The student from Vietnam who taught herself English. The first person from her village to ever travel abroad, this student was the embodiment of perseverance. She had taught herself English by reading whatever English-language newspapers she could get her hands on.
- The student from Japan, who returned the favor of hospitality in Osaka. “While we expect no reciprocation for the hospitality extended here, sometimes it is returned,” says McKinney. Last year, he and his wife we were in Osaka for a conference. Their former student, who now lives and works in the city, went to great lengths to see that they were well cared for throughout their stay.
“International students need the kind of support that the PAWS program provides,” McKinney says. “Sometimes they are homesick and just need to know that there is someone here on whom they can call if they need help. Sometimes their impression of America before arrival has been gained from American movies, which certainly give a distorted view of American society. Being involved with a family here helps them to gain a more realistic and accurate impression of the United States.”
Sic ’em, Baylor PAWS!
You might also like:
* Baylor going international with Send-Off Parties in China (July 2017)
* Baylor First in Line helps first-generation students transition to college life (May 2017)