Southern Hospitality for International Students / Kienna Van Dellen
Throughout this November issue, you will see different people’s stories on diversity and how we can learn from each other.
College life is different for everyone; however, it brings a huge culture shock for international students. This is something that you may not think about as you sit side by side with them in their classes. That girl from Japan may be tired from staying up late into the night to talk to her parents after they got off work because of the time difference. The boy from Germany may be adjusting to the confusing political system discussed in his class. The athlete from Brazil may be trying their best to adjust to all the new foods in the campus cafeteria.
The value of learning in the presence of students from all different cultures and backgrounds is something irreplaceable. We saw through quarantine we weren’t able to have the discussion in class that we can have now face to face. International students broaden American minds and in turn, coming to the U.S. broadens their view of Americans. Students are able to return home having broken down stereotypes and have a deeper understanding of American values with a lifelong connection to the country.
There are so many different cultural shocks students face when coming to the U.S., both physically and emotionally. As if adjusting to everyday life in a new country wasn’t challenging enough, the pandemic shook up everyone’s life. International students were trapped in the U.S. because of border closures and for some of us, it’s been almost two years since we have been able to return to our homeland and see our families. While many students on campus go home every other weekend, that luxury is rare for those who live farther away. Most students from outside of the U.S. are fortunate if they get to return home twice per year; for those who work here, it’s closer to once per year for Christmas. Some still face border closures or natural or economic disasters that make going home impossible for upcoming holidays.
Our home life and college life are two very different things and they rarely overlap. Oftentimes it can feel like we are living two separate lives purely by change of location and culture. I am often able to ground myself between these two sides of life by remembering my identity in Christ Jesus and how that binds everyone together, no matter where we call home on this earth. I have many places that I call home, Alberta Canada, Mississippi, South Carolina, and California, but in the end, it doesn’t matter, they are all temporary through the lens of eternity.
With all that being said, I would like to challenge you. Many of these students don’t have a place to go for school breaks like fall break, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or spring break and rely on the hospitality of others. This really applies to anyone who lives more than a quick road trip away. Invite these students in, and learn about who they are and their journey of how they got to Mississippi. Introduce them to your favorite Southern-style meal. Invite others to experience nature and adventure in your hometown with you. Everyone has a different story and different reasons for choosing to study abroad and in the South specifically, and each story is special to hear. I have personally been able to see the open arms of the south and experienced so many new things alongside my college friends that I now consider my southern family, however, I know that is not the case for everyone. I encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and make friends with those who may feel like outsiders. Use that hospitality that the South is known for and help them to create roots and a home here.
“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”