New program provides international students a place to start

By Amanda Thomas

Baylor’s Center of International Education plans to implement a new program in fall 2012 that will welcome international students to Baylor, starting the moment they step off the airplane.

The program, Welcoming Our World, will feature volunteers who pick up students at the airport, help move them into their dorms, take them shopping and assist them in various ways, helping them find their way around Baylor and navigate the Waco community.

Melanie Smith, international student relations coordinator, said this will affect the 150 to 200 new international students who are expected to attend Baylor this coming fall.

“Welcoming Our World volunteers will assist the [Center of International Education] during the week of August 12-16,” Smith said, which is one week before Baylor’s typical new-student Welcome Week.

Randy Penson, associate director for the Center of International Education, explained the intention behind the program.

“It’s very simple. We have Baylor students coming to Baylor from all over the world every year, and they need to have a welcoming experience,” Penson said. “This experience needs to start before they arrive.”

The Center of International Education helps to manage and develop study abroad and exchange program opportunities for students, which includes preparing students to travel abroad and welcoming international students. Currently, it has two programs: The Welcome Family Program, in which a local family works to make the international student feel welcome by spending time with him or her, and People Around The World Sharing (PAWS), in which American students serve as mentors for international students for the duration of an entire school year.

Although these programs help international students during the school year, the student is not introduced to their Welcome Family or People Around the World Sharing partner until the year begins, whereas Welcoming Our World connects international students to volunteers from the moment they arrive, Penson said.

Penson said volunteers contact incoming international students over the summer through email or Facebook to start building a relationship, answer questions, get the students excited about coming to Baylor and quell any fears the student might have.

“Once they arrive, that welcoming email or text manifests into a welcoming presence by the volunteer meeting them,” Penson said. “The volunteer now has the privilege of giving the international student their first ‘bear hug,’ one of many that we hope they receive throughout their time at Baylor.”

After orientation is over and classes start, Penson said the volunteer has no further obligation, though he believes a continuing relationship will benefit both student and mentor.

“Although the volunteer only has to work with the student before orientation, we hope that this short relationship will be the beginning of a lifelong relationship and bless both parties,” Penson said.

Junior international student Jeanne Samake from Mali said she wants to volunteer with Welcoming Our World because her Welcome Family and People Around the World Sharing partner made a big impact on her life and she would like to do the same for someone else.

“My PAWS partner is like my best friend here, and I love my Welcome Family,” Samake said. “They were really helpful. As an international student, you really need someone to guide you.”

Samake said she encourages students to get involved in the program because programs like Welcoming Our World, People Around the World Sharing and the Welcome Family program.

“My PAWS partner was taking French, and French is my first language, so I helped her,” Samake said, “You learn a lot by being a volunteer and interacting with all the international students.”

Students interested in volunteering should email Melanie Smith at with their name, preferred email address, cell phone number, major and preferred country of origin for the international student.