Being Family for International Students During the Holidays

Teresa Royall
International students gather in an American home for Christmas.

When you think of holidays, one of the words that may come to mind is family. Holidays tend to give us more time to connect with family for food, recreation, and celebration. International students also think of family during the holidays. Yet many cannot be with family during the holiday time. Most schools shut down during the holidays, so campus can be a very lonely place. Inviting international students to experience family during holiday time in America, such as during Thanksgiving and Christmas, is a wonderful way to show hospitality. These times of hosting also give a chance to show Christian hospitality, can create friendships and gospel conversations, and can replace isolation and loneliness with joy.  Here are some practical ways to do so: 

Offering a meal helps the students experience American holiday food and traditions.

Most internationals have never experienced a turkey and dressing meal or cranberry sauce. Most like to try new food. However, if you host a group of Indian students who are used to spicy food, provide some spices or salsa for them to heat up their meal. Meals can be hosted in a home, church, or Baptist Center setting, depending on the availability of hosts and size of hosting spot. One note on providing meals is to always have a vegetarian option for those who do not eat meat. It is always best to avoid pork and beef as these foods may violate some of the religious norms from their country. Here are some ideas you might try regarding hosting meals:

Taste of Thanksgiving Event

The BCM at Ga. State hosts Taste of Thanksgiving the week before Thanksgiving. A traditional meal is served with local churches providing the food and church members and American students as hosts. Students and church members welcome the international students and offer friendship. A speaker will share why  Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. International students are recognized, and they are given a gift bag to thank them for coming. 

Have a local church host a meal during Thanksgiving or Christmas week

On a day that works for the church and the students, host a meal together during Thanksgiving or Christmas week. They may also need to provide transportation since most internationals do not have a car. 

Host students in a home.

My husband Bob and I often invite internationals to our home for a Christmas meal. Many times we invite them to help decorate our tree. One year, we were having a tough time getting all the lights on our tree working. One of the Chinese students offered to try to fix it and she did! We also build in time to share what Christmas means to ones who follow Jesus and read the Christmas story in Luke. This lets students see there is more to Christmas than the commercialism they encounter in the United States. We also ask students to share what is meaningful about their holidays as well, so it turns out to be a rich cultural time of conversation and sharing. Enlisting church members, students in BCM, or alumni to host students makes for a meaningful time for all. It only takes an invitation, transportation, a meal, and a willingness to be a friend and family to international students. I remember one year a student from Japan told me that being in an American home was the fulfillment of his dream in coming to America! Many international students hope to be welcomed into an American home, yet many go back home after their education without ever having this opportunity.

Here are some other ideas for holiday connections:

Invite students to a Christmas musical at a local church

Many churches have Christmas pageants or plays. One of the local metro Atlanta churches, Woodstock First Baptist, provides transportation to students to attend their annual Christmas pageant. This gives students the Christmas story in a manner that engages the students and gives opportunity for follow up conversation.

Host students in homes for a few days during the holidays

Having students stay in homes is more time intensive, but it really makes for deeper conversations and opportunities to share faith in Christ. Students staying with families really feel a part of the family, and it takes away the loneliness they can feel during the holidays. If it is over a weekend, the student can also be invited to church.

Host a holiday baking day

For those of us in the U.S., we know that holiday sweets are so delicious during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Inviting internationals to bake and decorate cookies or make cake cakes or candy is a great way to engage students and have conversations along the way. And they can have goodies to take home to enjoy.

Take students to a light show

Many cities have light shows at Christmas time. Even some neighborhoods provide a show of their homes that students can see without paying money. Offering transportation to see the lights and hosting a hot chocolate and cookie time afterward can be lots of fun. And it gives time for conversation and friendship building. 

The holidays offer many opportunities for Americans to be family for the international students who come to study in the United States. I encourage you to enlist students, church members, alumni to be part of your hospitality team and connect them to students who are excited about experiencing holidays in a family setting. I think you will find that long term relationships will be built between the students and families and also with the students and Christ!

Join us for our next monthly International Student Ministry zoom call to talk about this very topic! We will meet Thursday, October 12, 2-3 EST. Click this link to sign up to join: ismbaptist.net/connect

Teresa Royall is the Campus Expansion Consultant for Georgia Baptist Collegiate Ministries. You can follow her on Instagram @teresaoncampus or e-mail her at troyall.rep@gabaptist.org.

Sign up for our Newsletter

Get news about events, promotions, and new opportunities – right to your inbox!