By Bill Bray and Margaret-Ann Williams, Special to ASSIST News Service
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (ANS — July 8, 2015) — In hundreds of university communities across the United States and Canada, local church and community groups are desperately trying to train more volunteers to serve as international student hospitality hosts. The challenge this year is huge, over 1.13 million international students will land here next month according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Although most of the friendship family programs are operated by Christian campus ministries such as International Students (ISI), Bridges International and Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, not all are exclusively Christian. Hundreds of independent, local programs exist and all of them shun overt evangelism in order to avoid charges of proselytism by hostile forces on the increasingly secularistic campuses.
One such program here in this Ivy League community is called the International Hospitality Programs. It has kicked off a series of information briefings for those interested in hosting international students at the University of Virginia this fall. Questions will be answered by experienced IHP volunteers at four “information forums” held on the University grounds at the Lorna Sundberg International Center.
Others are going out into the churches and faith community to train host families in living rooms and Sunday schools.
According to University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan, over 1,021 international students graduated from UVA last May. That means about 1 in 10 undergrads were internationals here. In August, over 3000 international students and scholars will arrive, mostly from China, India and Saudi Arabia as well as 129 other countries.
The student welcome won’t be left to the community alone, over 40 student clubs and dozens of community groups have been invited to help connect UVA students with potential hospitality hosts according to student liaison Manquiao Liu. Ms. Liu is a member of the IHP Board of Directors.
“Many of these students express a desire to experience normal off-campus friendships with Americans and their families,” says Dr. John Aguilar, a retired Navy physician who volunteers as president of the non-profit community organization.
IHP was started in 1964 to connect individuals as well as community organizations with the growing numbers of internationals coming to study here. Never has the number been higher and the group is reorganizing in order to better recruit and train community host families.
“The information forums are designed to clear up doubts that potential hosts have about offering hospitality,” says Dr. Aguilar, “and are critical to meeting the huge demand for more host partners and families.”
For example, he says, many think that they have to provide housing or entertain the students. “That’s not what this is about. We mostly open our homes for short visits, usually around a meal, or include international students in our regular activities. The students want to experience our lives as part of their education.”
International Hospitality Programs is celebrating 51 years as an independent community organization welcoming international students to Charlottesville. It builds international friendships with university students from abroad by sharing culture, family and holiday times and language. IHP helps promote mutual understanding and is open to all without discrimination.
IHP volunteer Dena Imlay, who leads the forum, has hosted international students for more than 30 years, both in Louisiana and in Charlottesville.
“I’ve always had a keen interest in international experiences and people from other countries. I also wanted to enrich our lives and, particularly, our daughter’s life as she was growing up,” says Dena.
Their daughter has her own family now, but the Imlays still enjoy welcoming students from all over the world to Charlottesville.
Their students have come from many counties and cultures: Mainland China, Mauritania, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Japan, Bulgaria, France and Germany.
“We’ve hosted six students at one time and that doesn’t include their friends, who get added in at times!” she says with a big smile.
Dena and her husband Richard, have taken their IHP students to bluegrass and classical music concerts and picnics. They’ve even traveled with them.
“They teach us words in their languages, and tell us about their customs and holidays. We cook meals for each other.”
Dena has a few good tips for new hosts: greet the students as soon as they arrive; in fact, contact them before they arrive and tell them about yourself and the town – even Skype with their parents to introduce yourself. Also, help them set up their phones, dorm room or apartment, and a bank account. Show them around the town. And of course, have the student over to your home as soon as you can.
“Everyone has a story to tell and that includes your international student. Make it a rule to ask leading questions so they talk at least twice as much as you do,” advises Imlay.
For further information about IHP and international student outreach at the University contact the writers at firstname.lastname@example.org
Beau Miller, national director of the Association of Christians Ministering among Internationals operates a members-only matching service at the ACMI-Link website to help international students find host families and community groups. He is also available to answer questions and help potential host families learn the ropes.
Paula Parker, a California housewife and author of Friendship Matters has started a national movement to help train more American Christian families and churches to help host the flood of visitors from abroad. She is reachable at email@example.com
Photo captions: 1) Students praying. 2) International students arriving on campus. 3) Bill Bray.
About Bill Bray: Bill Bray, 67, is a retired foreign correspondent, author, blogger and frequent contributor to ASSIST News Service. He specializes in covering international student ministries and foreign missions. He has traveled to over 65 countries as a missionary journalist to report on missions and development ministries, returning to some countries as many as 30 times over the years. He can be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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