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Internationals and the Holidays
December 19 , 2006

Calvin College is creating a festive atmosphere for its international students who will be unable to make it home for the holidays.

The 30 students, hailing from Sudan, Italy, South Korea, the Netherlands, El Salvador, Nigeria, Ghana and Canada, are hunkering down in Calvin’s Knollcrest East apartments from the time exams ended (on December 16) through January 1.

And as in year’s past, Calvin’s residence life staff is planning activities and celebrations to soothe the students’ sense of being far from home and family.

“During the holidays, we like to provide a place for our international students where they have friends and a place where they can belong,” says Abby Norman.

Norman and her staff have planned holiday parties, an outing to the Festival of Lights at 5th/3rd Ballpark, ice skating, sledding, movie and game nights.

“Last year, we did three potluck dinners and they were very well attended and worked out very well, so I want to do those again,” she says. “Then you know they’re eating at least one good meal a week.”

The potlucks are a necessity for the Knollcrest East residents, she says, because for the second straight year Calvin is shutting down the campus, including the dining halls, between Christmas and New Years. The students who remain here will be cooking for themselves, which is why the residence life staff is also planning grocery runs.

“We have what we call ‘Shopping 101,’ for students who don’t usually go to the grocery store,” Norman says. “We give them a sheet on how to shop and how to buy things on sale and look at their budget. Hopefully, they don’t live on Ramen.” (The same service is provided for Calvin students who say on campus during the summer,” she notes.)

The international students will also have a Christmas tree to trim and Christmas stockings.

“Throughout the Christmas break, the RAs and I put candy in the stockings we put up on the tree,” Norman says, “and people look every day to see if they have anything in their stocking.”

Even though e-mail and inexpensive telephone programs like Skype allow internationals to stay in contact their families throughout the holidays, Christmas on campus can be a difficult time.

Pearlyn Budu, a Ghanian student who will serve on Norman’s staff, has not seen her family since she first arrived at Calvin last year.

“Basically, I just keep on going because I look forward to the next time I go home,” says Budu, an international development and economics major. “Definitely there are a lot of students who can’t make it home. We’re going to try to make Christmas a creative community spirit this year.” ]

Budu says she is especially looking forward to the potlucks, which are like an international tour of cuisines.

The internationals staying on campus for the holidays are a fraction of Calvin’s sizeable international student population: 294 students representing 59 countries. In the latest Open Doors report, Calvin is rated fourth in the country among baccalaureate institutions for the number of international students on campus.

The holiday programming is a necessity for a school with a sizeable international population, says Rick Zomer, Calvin’s associate dean of residence life.

“When we bring students here, especially when they come from overseas, it’s not realistic to think they will be able to go home. But even though they’re not going to go home for Christmas, we’re trying to ensure that they’ll still have an enjoyable time-even living away from their families.”

~written by communications and marketing staff writer Myrna Anderson