Texas A&M University is home to over 5,000 international students. Most of these students come with only a suitcase, do not have any friends or family here, and are not accustomed to our culture. Moving and leaving your home to go abroad is difficult for most, but it is a chance for each international student to learn and grow. Living in a new country brings explorations and perspectives that one never knew existed, until they are experienced.
A&M Church of Christ and Aggies for Christ saw the increasing need to help international students experience these new adventures, while helping them adjust in a different culture. They worked together to create the International House (iHouse), to help international students during the joys and frustrations they deal with being so far from their country, customs, and family. The goal is to make the transition to Texas a little bit easier for each international student. iHouse is able to accomplish this by offering various services, social events, and community projects.
“We hope iHouse will become a home away from home for international students,” said Lyndsay Phillips, iHouse Director. “The iHouse is not a place to live, but a community and family for international students.”
iHouse starts each school year off with iHouse Market. The iHouse Market is similar to a garage sale except all the items are free for international students. Throughout the summer, furniture is gathered and stored for the market. Volunteers help move and transport the items for international students. Phillips notes that iHouse focuses on gathering large home items such as beds, couches, desks, and tables/chairs, because these are the most difficult to acquire if you are new to town and you don’t have a vehicle.
In 2010, a few international students approached iHouse wanting to know more about the Bible, Jesus, Christianity, and church. From this, Dialogue began as an open conversation about these topics. Every Sunday morning the Dialogue group meets at A&M Church of Christ. The group is kept small, and all questions and people are welcome. iHouse Dialogue respects each person and his/her ideas. Some Sundays, there is even a free lunch for everyone afterward.
“Dialogue is a place for us [to go] through the process of seeking God. We examine how we treat people around us, either at home or in the work place, through the little stories from [the] Bible. Being previously misinformed of Christianity or churches, we gradually learn what it really means to be a believer of Him, and how to practice what He told us to do. The teachers at Dialogue are really considerate and knowledgeable. They understand we have different cultural backgrounds, so they always interpret the manuscripts by putting them in a cultural context. Now the manuscripts are not untouchable words to us anymore, they are vivid and tangible,” said Junjing Zhang, international student.
Throughout the year, iHouse has Conversation Clusters that are social/service groups in which English is the common language. It gives the international students a chance to practice their English. The Clusters meet weekly and are given a topic to discuss. The goal is to converse in every-day English. Conversation Clusters are designed to be flexible to provide international students various social settings from which to learn, whether is it decorating Christmas cookies or trying to explain hospital insurance policies.
“We have made friends from India, Brazil, Korea, Honduras, and many other places. iHouse has frequent gatherings like potlucks where we can release ourselves from the stress of graduate school. Church members from Dialogue hold parties during holidays and invite us. I look back and find these moments are now the landmarks during my Ph.D study, because they gave us the feeling of family when our mom and dad are thousands of miles away,” Zhang said.
There is a place for everyone in iHouse. There is no need for international students to feel alone. Many of the volunteers have lived in another culture, so iHouse understands the hardships of living in a new environment and offers year-long events and practical services to help international students.
To learn more about iHouse or get involved, visit ihouse.aggiesforchrist.org online. The International House is a service to the International Community in the Bryan/College Station area, and is sponsored by Aggies for Christ and the A&M church of Christ.
article by Ariel Rosentswieg