ISF helps international students feel at home in the U.S.


Maryann Vest is (left) and Joyce Jacome (right). They were visiting The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis during the St. Louis Tour held by ISF on September 8, 2018.
Photo by Sandy Leegumjorn


The first thought Joyce Jacome had when she stepped off the plane in St. Louis was “How am I going to survive this place, barely knowing English?”

Jacome, a Lindenwood student from Ecuador, arrived in the U.S. for the first time on Aug. 21. Her older sister attends Lindenwood, but she was still in Ecuador. Jacome’s parents traveled with her, but neither speak English.

“I was so terrified,” Jacome said. “Especially during the immigration process.”

After getting through customs, her anxiety worsened. Jacome said she had to communicate in English.

“At that point, I started to regret coming to the U.S.,” she said, adding that she felt like an “outsider.”

Things got worse when Jacome and her parents went to Walmart to look for school and dorm supplies. They had a hard time finding items they wanted to buy.

“I tried asking someone, but I guess he didn’t understand me, so I was too afraid to approach anyone,” Jacome said. “We were just looking around, feeling lost.”

That’s when a lady in her 60s approached them. She was Maryann Vest, a volunteer for International Student Fellowship, whose goal is to make the U.S. more like home to the international students who come to Lindenwood University. Vest was in Walmart to help other international students shop for school and dorm supplies.

“She was smiling and saying something in English I didn’t really understand, but I knew she was trying to help us,” Jacome said.

Vest said Jacome’s sister, Katy, told ISF that her sister was coming in. Vest said she thought Jacome and her parents might be Katy’s relatives.

After they said they were, Vest told them she was glad to meet them and offered her help. She said she did not know how much Jacome and her parents understood her.

“But hopefully my smile and body language made them feel welcome,” Vest said.

Vest helped them locate what they wanted to buy and introduced them to other members of ISF.

Vest said she and her husband, Steve, have volunteered with ISF for more than two years. They got involved when she and her husband met an international student from Korea in Walmart.

The couple had a conversation with him and found out that he was all by himself in Walmart and did not know anyone from the U.S.

They offered him a ride and invited him to have dinner at their house. The student invited his international friends.

They had good conversations even though there was a language barrier, but that did not stop them from trying to know each other.

“It has changed my perspective after listening to them talking about their struggles in the U.S. I have never thought about,” she said.

Vest said meeting Jacome and her family in Walmart reminded her of the reason she volunteered for ISF.

The International Student Fellowship can be contacted on InvolveU.