International Home Away From Home
Every school year hundreds of students from all over the world move to Edmond to broaden their education at the University of Central Oklahoma and experience American life. The UCO Community Responding to International Students Program (CRISP) is designed to make this transition easier for international students so they can get the most out of their time in Edmond. The program pairs international students with American families to give the students a home away from home and Edmond families the opportunity to learn more about other cultures. Outlook visited with CRISP volunteer Ali Clark to learn more about the program and her experience.
Why did you get involved in this program?
We wanted to expose our kids to students from other countries to give them different cultural experiences. We also wanted to give students from other countries a look into the lives of an Oklahoma family.
How many students are you usually paired with?
We usually sign up to take two or three students. This semester, not enough families signed up, so we took eight! The students really look forward to building relationships with Americans, so they are sad if they don’t get paired with a family.
What countries are they usually from?
There are quite a few from South Korea that attend UCO but we have had students from Malaysia, Vietnam, China and Taiwan.
What is the biggest challenge for the students?
It would be the language. Sometimes they don’t understand me because I talk too fast! A majority of these students come here for more than the American college experience. They want to be immersed in the English language and most of them speak it very well. But no matter how well they speak our language, catching on to Oklahoma twang can be challenging for them. There are a lot of sayings and words they have never heard.
What is your favorite memory in the program?
At Christmas time, we have our students come and help us decorate our Christmas tree. They don’t do that in their home country, so explaining our traditions and listening to theirs is always a special moment. One year, I explained to one of my students how every Christmas, my kids pick out an ornament and how fun it is seeing all the ornaments from past Christmases and talking about the memories behind each one. This student was touched by our family’s tradition and said, “When I have kids, I want to do this tradition.”
What do you want your students to take away from this experience?
We want them to have a positive experience with their time in Oklahoma. While it is a great opportunity for them to experience American life, it’s also overwhelming for them to move to a different country with a different language. Some students get homesick and like to be able to have a “mom” they can reach out to and ask questions. Sadly, there have been instances when not everyone is friendly to the international students, so my family likes to help them make the most out of their time here.
What special connections have you formed?
We have stayed in contact through social media with multiple students after they go back to their home country. Some students return back to the states and contact us to meet up. For example, one of the students came back to the states for her master’s degree and attended a college in Dallas. After she moved back, she drove up to see us and we also drove to Dallas to see her. She still reaches out to my family on social media.
What have you learned from the CRISP experience?
They have taught us to be open to all people, even those who are different from us. We have found never to judge a book by its cover because these students are more like us than you’d expect.