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International Students Make Calvin Home for the Holidays
December 10, 2007

Calvin College is creating a festive atmosphere for its international students who can’t make it home for the holidays.

International Student HolidayAnywhere from 12 to 20 students will hunker down in Calvin’s Knollcrest East apartments from Saturday, December 15 until January 1, 2008, taking part in the many holiday activities planned for them by Calvin residence life staff. 

The students—from South Korea, Hong Kong and British Columbia—are a fragment of Calvin’s sizeable international student community, numbering 305 students from 50 countries. (In the most recent Open Doors report from the Institute for International Education, Calvin is rated sixth in the country among baccalaureate institutions for the number of international students on campus.)

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.”

The staff at Knollcrest East (KE) has planned a skating party, a Christmas movie and other outings for itsinternational tenants. On Christmas Eve, the group will attend a candlelight service at Berean Baptist Church.  

“It’s really difficult for them, I think, to be away from their families, and we try to make it as enjoyable as possible,” said Andrea Timmerman, the Calvin community life coordinator who is in charge of the festivities at KE. As the holiday season approaches, Timmerman is meeting with her RAs to come up with creative ways to celebrate. “We’ll have a lot of programming going on, so there’s always something for them to do.” In previous years, the KE group has visited Fifth/ Third Ballpark to view the Christmas lights and ice skated at Rosa Parks Circle.   

Potlucks, which are popular tradition for the internationals at KE, are also essential—as are weekly grocery runs to Meijers, said Timmerman—because for the third straight year, Calvin is closing its campus, including the dining halls for the break between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Even though e-mail and Internet telephone programs like Skype allow internationals to stay in contact their families, the holidays can be a difficult time for them.

Since she came to Calvin in 2005, Junior Kara Shin, a native of South Korea, has spent every holiday season away from her family. Because of the time difference, telephoning them has been problematic. “There was one Christmas during which I wasn't able to talk to them till 11 p.m. on Christmas day!” she said. “Thankfully though, Skype will probably allow our communication feel more personal and close because we'll be able to see each other's faces this time.”

For the past two years, Shin has spent Christmas at the homes of friends. “There has been no norm for the past five years except that I have always been to church for Christmas,” she said, adding, “I do love the fact that you have an excuse to go through the trouble of making fancy cookies.”

This year, Shin will serve as one of the resident assistants hired by Timmerman to coordinate the festivities at Knollcrest East. “I've taken the role of the receiver the past two years. This year, I want to be the giver,” she said.

Increasingly, Calvin international students who can’t return home for the holidays are, like Shin, finding holiday homes with friends and family in the U.S., a trend encouraged by the residence life staff. “We think that’s a better model because they’re staying with people they know,” Zomer said. Yet many of these students, after spending Christmas elsewhere, will join the international student community at KE for some part of the holiday break.

“If we as a college truly want to embrace community, we need to provide community for them, especially around the holidays. We don’t want them to be alone,” Timmerman said. “We want them to know they are a part of life at Calvin.”

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson


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