Caroline and her husband have done a tremendous job leading a local program, Friendship Families, where families can welcome and “adopt” an international college student. I asked her to share a little bit of her heart in opening up their lives and their home.
Each year hundreds of students come from all over the world to do cultural exchange in our city. Most stay only for a couple weeks but others stay here for a few years. The students that stay here to attend college feel that they are fulfilling their “American dream”. For most students it is their first time away from home. Soon after the excitement of being in a new country wears off they begin to realize that they don’t know where to buy clothes for a season called “winter”, they have run out of every toiletry they packed and they really just want to eat something familiar. Sure, they might find someone from school to give them a ride to Walmart, but with 42 different shampoo/conditioner options written in English, more than likely they will leave feeling frustrated.
What would happen if they had a family come alongside them to help them learn all about their new “home” away from home? For starters, Walmart would not seem so intimidating and they would have a local able to introduce them to the culture. Imagine picking your very first pumpkin, attending your first American wedding or celebrating Easter and learning that it was about so much more than a rabbit. By being a part of a group called Friendship Families, a group of local families that have adopted a student during their time in America, this has allowed us to see joy that comes from inviting a student into our home and lives. For our family, our adopted student hasn’t just had the opportunity to learn about us but she has also shared about her family and culture back home. Just the other day we were talking about how when she graduates in four years, she will have watched my children grow up from infant to kindergarten and how we get to watch her grow up too!
If you have the desire to open your home and life to a student, it is something you will not regret. For those thinking they would never have the time to commit, I’ll be the first to admit I thought so too. My husband so graciously reminded me that we eat meals everyday- no biggie to add another plate and we also go and do family activities, like going to the pumpkin patch-no biggie because our car has extra seats. The friendships between your family and your student will be deep and they will last a lifetime.
Next year the Friendship Family program anticipates having almost 40 new students. If you would like to know what the program is all about or if you would like to get involved, I would encourage you to check out the program and consider attending our end of the year celebration for our first group of graduating seniors. Last school year, before all of the students went home for the summer a few sent us messages saying that without their family they didn’t think they would have ever left their school’s campus and they would have been very lonely. So many left for summer break feeling like when they returned for the Fall Semester they knew they would have their American family here waiting on them with open arms.
Not everyone who reads this is local to Spartanburg, but this is something that you can do too! Do you live near a college or university? They more than likely will have international students attending! Connect with their Dean of Students and ask how you can serve their students. They will be excited that someone cares!
And if you are local, email us and we will connect you with Friendship Families so you can learn how to make dumplings, watch someone pick apples for the first time, and have the opportunity to love and welcome someone to your table and into your home and heart!