Share the Holidays with International Students, Scholars

  • December 11th, 2019

During winter break many international members of the UA community remain in Tuscaloosa, and would welcome the offer to share American holidays.

Consider joining Tuscaloosa International Friends.

Two women sitting on a bench talking and smiling.
Dr. Heather Pleasants (right) and her TIF student Alisha Kale (left) enjoy a fall day on the Quad.

Tuscaloosa International Friends is a local group of faculty, staff and area residents who volunteer to befriend one or more international students. While most students and families are usually matched at the beginning of fall semester, students reach out to TIF throughout the year, and families can join at any time.

Unlike host programs where students actually live with a family, TIF is a friendship program with four signature events during the year. Beyond those events, students and their TIF families can get together as often as they wish.

TIF President Chad Berry, who is also associate director of Education Abroad for Capstone International Center, said TIF encourages families to invite students to enjoy activities such as the Tinsel Trail or Holidays on the River, decorating at home or making cookies. Time spent together doesn’t have to be elaborate in order to be meaningful or memorable to someone far away from all that is familiar.

“Some studies show more than half of all international students never enter an American home.” – Chad Berry, president of Tuscaloosa International Friends

Dr. Heather Pleasants, associate director of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, is a member of TIF. She and her teenage daughter have befriended a student from Australia and are currently the friendship family for freshman Alisha Kale of Nashik, a city in India.

“In a place so far away from home, I was scared of feeling too lost or alone. With an American Friendship Family, I got an opportunity to have someone educate me a little about the American culture, someone to look out for me, and just someone to spend time with in general,” Kale said.

Pleasants offered some suggestions for relating to international students. “Do some research on where they are from. Involve them in what you are doing and look for resources to help them. Make discussions a two-way street so that your family and the student can learn about each other’s customs, culture and language. And, if you don’t know how to pronounce their name, it’s OK — just ask.”

As a UA staff member, Pleasants can also find campus resources to help her students personally and academically.

It’s always a good time to make friends.

Charter Morris, director of International Student and Scholar Services for Capstone International, said that while TIF is the starting point for many friendships, faculty and staff can reach out to international visitors at any time — such as the holidays — and wherever they happen to meet. Also, graduate students and scholars (visiting faculty, post-docs and researchers) are more likely to stay in town during the holidays, and sometimes are overlooked.

Scholars are likely to be older, but many would still like to make American friends, Morris said. Faculty and staff interested in welcoming international scholars can contact Morris at charter.morris@ua.edu for more information.

Kindness is a language and southern hospitality is real.

students and friends at a picnic
TIF students and families at the spring picnic, one of the organization’s signature events each year.

Hesitant about your ability to bridge culture and language barriers? Consider this advice.

“I feel that international students just want to meet new people, learn about the American culture and feel at home. So, I will just say be nice and welcoming (which thankfully the South does well), and help us understand how things work here so we feel more confident about being here on our own.” – Alisha Kale

“People worry about saying the wrong thing, but people know where your heart is. As long as you are being kind that will show through.” – Charter Morris

“All students are excited to have a connection with an American. Just be interested. Show them you care.” – Dr. Heather Pleasants

“The most important thing to remember: Kindness is an international language of sorts. I think Southern hospitality is a real thing and this is a great chance to show it.” – Chad Berry

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.