Evangeline Colarossi—Staff Writer
From their fifth year to their first, Dordt professors have been reaching out to international students to give them a family that isn’t so far away.
Dordt’s international student Friendship Family program is a way for families in the Sioux Center area to welcome international students on campus. While the students still live on campus, a Friendship Family is a way for them to have a home-away-from-home, a place to have a home-cooked meal, to spend some breaks and share the transition with others.
“It’s a great experience,” said professor Tom Clark. “It’s rewarding, it’s fun and you should think about doing it. But if you are going to do it, you should take it seriously.”
Mathematics professor Tom Clark is in his fourth year of being a friendship parent. After receiving an email about the program, he and his wife decided to get involved. They currently have two international students they host.
Clark finds hosting students to be not only a way for the students to adapt easier to American culture, but also to let the Clark family learn more about other cultures as well. It’s a beneficial experience for both his family and for the hosted students.
“College students, in general, don’t necessarily have a lot of opportunities to interact with people that aren’t other college students,” Clark said. “It gives them different dynamics to be around and things to do.”
With two different students, Clark finds it is better to have multiple students per family, as it gives them chances to interact with one another. It’s a chance to get away from Dordt and still enjoy a family experience.
Theology professor Rebekah Earnshaw is as new to America as many of the international students. Even though this is her first year teaching at Dordt, as soon as she heard about the International Family program, she knew she wanted to be involved.
Moving from Australia to Scotland and then to Iowa, she knew such a drastic transition can be rough. What better way to share that transition than with others who are experiencing it at the same time?
“It’s helpful for me because I, too, am adopting an international family as well in the process,” Earnshaw said.
Having past connections with the cultures of the girls she has “adopted” has created a stronger bond. While everyone has a different background, there are still things they share and can enjoy together. Transition doesn’t mean that everything has to be left behind, it’s just becoming accustomed to a new culture, which Earnshaw gets to do alongside her international students.
“I’m offering them something different,” Earnshaw said. “I don’t offer them an insight into a settled American family life because I myself am making that transition as well.”
Although being able to relate a bit more, Earnshaw still encounters difficulties of her own as a host parent.
History professor Mark McCarthy has been on both sides of the fence. He has been an international student and has hosted many students. Over his five years of being a host parent, he seems to find himself taking in even more. Starting with just one student and now hosting four, McCarthy’s “adopted” family is slowly growing.
“It [hosting students] just seemed like a natural fit,” McCarthy said.
He thinks one of the most important things of being a Friendship Family is the realization of the immense amount of differences.
“Keep an open mind,” McCarthy said. “Because you have somebody coming from a very different culture, they’ll understand and interpret things quite differently sometimes.”
McCarthy knows firsthand how many differences there are to absorb and deal with. He jokes that sometimes it seems like the family’s dog understands the language and customs better than you do. It just takes time to adapt and practice patience.
“You’ve been given an amazing opportunity to embrace a different culture,” McCarthy said. “While always acknowledging that you will be who you are, open yourself to other ideas and possibilities.”
Due to their love of international culture, another professor family, the Vermeers, also decided they would try being a Friendship Family—it has been completely worth it.
“[International students] have to adapt so much to this culture, that as much as I can, I want to make my home a place where they’re comfortable and don’t have to be adapting,” Vicki Vermeer said.
While it may be strange for students to be amidst a different family, the host parents really do care about them. They want to get to know the students and allow them to truly open up.
“Be patient with us, we’re trying,” Vermeer said. “Tell us what you like and don’t like. If you don’t tell us we don’t know. We truly do want to know what you’re thinking or what works for you.”
Even though not everyone is a part of this program, Earnshaw has a piece of advice for everyone.
“The world is very big, Christ owns all, and there are things to know and love and learn and places to serve that are so far beyond these four walls,” Earnshaw said.
For some, that place to serve is as a Friendship Family. For others, it’s as a roommate. No matter our current location, we can always reach out from where we are to meet others in their transition.