OBU proudly hosts a population of about 90 international students from 25 countries. Unfortunately, traveling to and attending an American university can be a difficult endeavor for foreign students.
Due to transportation restrictions, international students can bring only what they can fit into two suitcases. The luggage limitation means many foreign students leave behind essential items they will need for the upcoming semester at school. This year, Whitney França, OBU's international student liaison, decided to address this problem plaguing incoming international scholars.
"At OBU, we realize that students are not here by accident," said França. "God opens doors for each of them to arrive, and He has something great for them during their time on Bison Hill."
França wrote letters to area Baptist churches and asked church members to donate items which are necessary, but often left behind. The donations would allow international students to focus on new cultural and social development, rather than worrying about necessities they needed to purchase on the first day of living in the dorms. França's letters requested items such as bedding, towels, toiletries, laundry baskets, pillows and hangers, as well as other essential items American students already have packed. Campus ministries also provided Bibles with translations in English and the student's native language.
The welcome baskets helped relieve the stress of the jet-lagged students. They helped ensure incoming international students would not come "home" to an empty room, but would open their doom rooms to find a basket full of items needed for college life.
Renata Coelho, a student in OBU's Intensive English Program from Natal, Brazil, told França that the basket she received made her feel welcomed into the OBU family. In her basket, she found many of the same items Americans in her hall had brought to campus. She also appreciated how cute the gifts made her room look after she and her international roommate set up their rooms with their bedding and other items.
Area churches which contributed to the 25 baskets included Blackburn Chapel, Shawnee; First Baptist Church, Carney; Emmaus Indian Baptist Church, McLoud; First Baptist Church, Wanette; Hilltop Baptist Church, Shawnee; Sharon Baptist Church, Shawnee; University Baptist Church, Shawnee; and Wallace Avenue Baptist Church, Shawnee.
|Renata Coelho (center) and the Paces|
In addition to collecting gift baskets, França also organized homes to provide a place for the students to stay until the dorms opened. In the past, international students were welcomed into dorms early due to the stresses and uncertainties involved in international travel. Unfortunately, the dorm buildings were empty of other students, leaving students who had traveled across physical borders and cultural or language barriers with a few lonely days in their rooms.
This year, several people hosted students in their own homes, including the families of Dr. David Houghton, the dean of the Paul Dickinson College of Business; Dr. Scott Pace, the Hughes chair of Christian ministry; and Paul Gore, a member of the Shawnee community.
"It was such an honor to welcome an international student into our home and to witness how God continues to draw students to OBU from all over the world," said Pace, whose family hosted Coelho on her arrival in Oklahoma. "Not only were we able to minister to her as she adjusts to a new environment, but we were blessed by her kindness and love for our family, especially towards our children! We continue to talk regularly and spend time together, and we feel like the Lord has grown our family with the addition of such a special young lady."
França said she hoped the opportunity would provide the international students the chance to experience an American home and to participate in OBU's traditional Welcome Week activities. On Move-In Day, while American freshmen waited in caravans of cars filled to the brim with possessions, the international students were there, too, with a pair of suitcases next to them, an adventure before them, great expectations inside them and an Oklahoma family around them.
The host families "allowed students to experience an American home and have a complete Welcome Week experience as they were driven into Move-In Day," França said. "It was a great success as students were able to build a relationship with a family that could last during their four years at the university."
Click here for more information about OBU's Intensive English Program (IEP).