By Meghan Hendrickson
When a man from another country comes to study at Baylor, he does not always come alone. Sometimes he brings his wife and children with him to live in Waco as a family.
During the fall semester, the Center for International Education partnered with the formation department of Baylor Spiritual Life to create a community group for the wives and children of international students at Baylor.
The International Spouses Group meets on a weekly basis and includes women and children from countries such as Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan and India.
Bethany Parrott, Spiritual Life ministry associate for international student engagement, facilitates the group and said she hopes it will continue growing.
Parrott, who is also a graduate student at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, said the group’s mission is to provide community for the families of international students and give them a sense of belonging.
“A lot of times, they don’t have transportation, or their visas don’t allow them to work so they’re really lonely,” Parrott said.
Melanie Smith, the center’s international student relations coordinator, originally came up with the idea for the group.
Smith said she lived in St. Andrews, Scotland, in the early 1990s and led a similar group at the University of St. Andrews every Tuesday for a year. She said there were more than 32 women from 17 countries who participated in the group.
“We met, had tea and visited as their children played,” Smith said. “The beauty of this was that many were from countries that were currently at war and had religious and political differences. But that never interfered with the friendships that were made during that year.”
Parrott said she has enjoyed the formation of friendships in the group, as well as the freedom to discuss each other’s faith.
“We all come from different faith backgrounds,” she said. “It’s been really neat to be able to come and discuss that with one another with respect and not necessarily have expectations. We’re just talking about who God is, and learning about that and each other in that way.”
Parrott said she hopes her actions and words reflect Christ. She said it is beautiful to “watch the boundaries of cultures be broken down” as the women, including Parrott, discover their deep similarities.
“Sometimes we get caught up in our own country and our own way of doing things and forget there’s different ways to look at the world, and culture, and even how we view God,” Parrott said. “Even though we’re from all over, we’re all similar too.”
Samridhi Arora moved to Waco from New Delhi, India, seven months ago with her 3-year-old daughter, Shriya, her 1-year-old son, Rohan, and her husband, Sanjeev, who is studying to receive a master’s degree in computer science.
Samridhi said “one fine day” she received an invitation in the mail to join the International Spouses Group and was thrilled to find that “someone somewhere cares” about her.
“I wanted to have friends because I was feeling lonely in a new country,” Samridhi said.
Samridhi said she wanted to know what there was to do in Waco and at Baylor since her husband remains busy most of the time.
In addition to providing friendship and community for families of international students, Parrott said the group also provides practical assistance for living in a new country, such as recommendations for doctors and places to take children to play.
Samridhi said she has made true friends in the group and she looks forward to meeting each week.
“This is a very new experience to meet people from all over the world, because this is the first time that I am visiting a new country,” Samridhi said. “It’s amazing to know about each other’s culture and traditions. We can share our feelings and much more.”
The most important lesson Samridhi said she has learned is the same realization Smith and Parrott said they have discovered.
“I have learned many things, and most important of it is: no matter how different and diversified we are from each other in culture, we are still the same from within,” Samridhi said.
Samridhi said Parrott has been “an excellent host and a very, very good friend,” and she wants to thank Baylor for acknowledging and caring for the families of international students.
“When I came here I didn’t like the city much,” Samridhi said. “But now after meeting and knowing people and above all, having friends. I love Waco.”
Parrott said anyone who is interested in becoming a part of the International Spouses Group, “whether American or international,” can email her at Bethany_Parrott@baylor.edu for more information.