MATT HAMPTON | Reporter
International students sometimes face difficulties adjusting to life in the U.S., so International Student Fellowship provides opportunities to connect with native students, as well as assisting with the transition in other ways.
“Seventy percent of international students never make it into an American home while they’re here, and all they know of America is what they see either on TV or on a college campus, and that’s just a small fraction of what America’s really like,” said Ava Schaeffer, who works as the Lindenwood campus coordinator for the nonprofit that runs the International Student Fellowship.
“Besides the planned activities that they do … they do little things for international students, like trying to help them get connected with products they need from the stores, getting IDs and driver’s licenses, those kinds of things,” said the Rev. Nichole Torbitzky, university chaplain and an ISF adviser.
In addition to holding weekly meetings and other activities where foreign students can build relationships with students and volunteers, the group also provides some religious services, such as holding Bible studies and giving rides to churches, although they are not the organization’s main focus and Schaeffer said only “a small percentage” participate in faith activities. If an international student loses a relative while in the U.S., ISF helps with the grieving process, according to Schaeffer, who is one of the people responsible for the chapter’s religious life events.
Shenika Harris, a Spanish professor and one of the student group’s faculty advisers, said that Christianity is already important to some foreign students, but “many of the students have not been exposed to that, so they do find it interesting and they do want to find more about that.”
Digital cinema arts major Artima Sakulkoo, a student from Thailand, said that for her, ISF is “like a family” and it helped her meet friends from throughout the world. It also gave her a ride to and from the airport and a place to store her belongings when she leaves campus between semesters.
Schaeffer became involved in helping international students while participating in a University of Missouri at Saint Louis exchange program in which international students lived with her family temporarily. Around 2007, she heard of a student who had no place to stay over Christmas and invited him in.
“We got to know that student, we got to know his friends and we just loved them, so I haven’t stopped,” she said.
Schaeffer said what she likes most about ISF is making personal connections with the students and she enjoys providing a “family away from home” for them and hearing about their cultures. One thing she learned from interacting with students of various cultures is the importance of avoiding cultural mistranslations. For example, some cultures have different attitudes toward time, and others may accept an invitation just for politeness.
“When I hosted students for Thanksgiving dinner, probably a dozen said yes, and one came,” Schaeffer said. “I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to be eating Thanksgiving dinner for a month!'”
Not many ISF volunteers are Lindenwood students, most of them being from outside the school.
ISF recently held its first meeting of the year, a Hawaiian luau, and later this month, the members will take internationals into local households for Dinner with an American. Schaeffer said their American folk dance event on Feb. 9 will give “an opportunity for students to try something uniquely American.” Other activities the group does include taking students to attractions in St. Louis and celebrating the birthdays of internationals since their family lives overseas.