For many international students, leaving home to study in the U.S. is tough. But being away from their families is the toughest part. These students dive into a new life while missing their mom’s cooking and other comforts of home. BJU’s campus parent program helps smooth the transition for the study abroad experience.
Revamping an Old Idea
For many years, BJU’s campus parent program matched incoming freshman to faculty and staff members. Not only did the program help students get off campus, but it also helped them develop relationships with faculty and staff outside of the classroom.
The program was phased out over the years. As it became easier for students to go off campus and get involved with the local church, the campus parent program was not as necessary to support American students.
However, the international student relations team and Dr. Matthew Weathers, director of international student relations and director of the center for leadership development, are updating this initiative for international students. This new version works similarly to the original but operates on a volunteer basis.
“Over the summer and into the beginning of the school year we sent emails to faculty and staff members for them to express their interest in becoming volunteers,” said Weathers. Later, during international student orientation, the team extended the opportunity to the new international students. “Around 30 of our new students signed up, and we have just over 20 faculty and staff who are taking part in this parent program,” added Weathers.
Bridging the Gap
One of the main goals of the campus parent program is helping international students build relationships. For many cultures there is a formality between professors and students. “We want to be proactive in closing that distance on campus, particularly because we are a Christian university,” said Weathers. “We are commanded primarily to be brothers and sisters in the body of Christ and demonstrate God’s love towards one another.”
By opening their homes to the students, faculty and staff create learning opportunities for both the students and themselves. Interacting with international students in a casual setting creates an awareness of other cultures. It also equips faculty and staff for interaction with international students on campus. “There are different cultures, and different dynamics in each culture,” said Weathers. “Having close contact and getting to know a student from another country helps inform your perspective (on) how you interact with other international students throughout the year as well.”
Connecting the Dots
“Research shows that the two primary factors for international students’ success at an American university are English skills and relationships,” said Weathers. Being able to practice English in a relaxed environment improves students’ communication skills. Opportunities on campus include the Bridge to College English and platforms like iFace or English Corners, where students can reinforce their English language abilities. But speaking in a home is different. Students can relax and take their time to communicate with their “parents.”
“If a student is able to communicate in English and build meaningful relationships the chances of their success is really good,” said Weathers. This success includes continuing their program of study, graduating and entering the workforce, in Weathers’ words, as “a professional in their field wherever God calls them.”
The benefits of the new campus program are already visible. Thirty freshmen international students are enjoying the perks of having a place to crash besides their dorm rooms. Students, faculty and staff are enjoying the intercultural experience. Miranda Trabal of the Dominican Republic and Adesuwa Awo-Osagie of Nigeria love having staff member Sherry Miller as their campus mom. “My campus parent and sister are nice,” said Awo-Osagie. “And I love the fact that it is a good excuse to get off campus.”
Trabal appreciates having someone to help her with errands her parents would have done with her. Having a kitchen to cook in is also a treat. When asked about their favorite part of the program both girls exclaimed, “home-cooked meals!”
Miller enjoys time with her freshmen “daughters,” who’ve become ambassadors for their own countries. “I love learning about their culture and introducing them to ours,” said Miller. Thanks to their new relationship Miller better understands how hard it can be for international students to adapt. She admires their willingness to leave their family and culture behind to seek a Christian education at BJU.
“As a campus parent, my prayer is that they will be able to use what they have learned during their time at BJU to minister to others wherever the Lord leads them in the future,” she said.