BU international students welcomed by local families

By David McLain


For two decades local families have been surrogate parents for international students because they are far from their biological families while studying at Baylor.

People Around the World Sharing, or PAWS, Family Partnerships is a program under the Center for International Education that partners international students with families in Texas.

“The family partnership also helps CIE know if the student is struggling in their studies, are homesick, or need some extra Baylor services to help them be successful,” Smith said. “Years have proven that this program is needed and international students come to campus having heard about it wanting to be a part.”

The Center for International Education set up a seven member church advisory council to screen families interested in the program. The council consists of representatives from First Baptist Church Waco, First Baptist Church Woodway, Columbus Avenue Baptist Church, Fellowship Bible Church, Harris Creek Baptist Church, Antioch Christian Fellowship and Highland Baptist Church.

“We work with churches because it is a good way to ensure that the families have good values,” said Melanie Smith, international student relations coordinator, who oversees the program.

Smith said that these PAWS families help the student make a smoother transition and represent the hospitality of Waco and Baylor.

Students interested in the program can contact Smith at her office in the Poage Library.

Smith said the program enriches the lives of the families’ individual members and each international student. The families help students with grocery store visits, transportation and culturally confusing situations.

China Spring residents Mark and Carol Embry support Guatemala City, Guatemala graduate student Jimena Tejeda. Embry said she became interested in the program when she saw a flyer on a church bulletin board.

“It intrigued us at first because we travel and enjoy Latin culture and music,” Embry said. “Now she is learning about an average American family and how we live. She is just a delight. She couldn’t be more polite and considerate. We’re really looking forward to getting to know her family a little better, too. We may even go to Guatemala.”

Tejeda said this is the first time she has spent a long time away from her parents.

“All of my life I’ve lived with them and this is the first time I’ve been many days without seeing them,” Tejeda said.

Embry met Tejeda’s family in August before school started and each of Tejeda’s parents told her and her husband to take care of their daughter.

Embry said the concern Tejeda’s parents expressed for their daughter caught her off guard.

“It just strikes you,” Embry said. “That no matter what your language or culture, that it is a frightening thing to send your 24-year-old daughter across the world to study. It’s a frightening thing for parents across the world.” Embry said the experience is educational.

“Its just good to learn about as many cultures as you can,” Embry said. “Its an education in itself and should be more prevalent. The more different cultures learn about one another the better.”

Tejeda said her close relationship with her family in Guatemala led her to apply to the program.

“It was also my way to get to know people and get a good idea of Texas culture,” Tejeda said.

Kathy Anderson, who lives in McKinney, said she and her husband Jim know about the program because of friends that have participated in the past. They are currently paired with three different students from different places in the world.

“Jim and I both feel an obligation to these kids that put their home life on hold to see the United States,” Anderson said. “Kids are kids, and they get lonesome and need a mom or dad.”

Jim Anderson is a part time lecturer in the McBride Center for International Business, which is in the Hankamer Business School. Jim Anderson teaches classes on Monday nights, and Kathy Anderson comes with him to see her students at Baylor.

“These kids, you know, they just need love, and attention, and some mom hugs,” Kathy Anderson said. “Lately I’ll ask them what they’re missing from home.”

Anderson recently shipped one student a package of vegemite, an iconic Australian spread, and has plans to cook a meal, which is regularly prepared by his mother, for another one of her students.

“Its a Swedish traditional meat dish and I’m trying to figure out how to make it,” Anderson said.

Anderson said she is constantly encouraged for the future because of her interactions with these students and the stories about the international students in her husband’s class.

“He talks about how these kids want to do so much for others in the world, and how they’re very internationally minded,” Anderson said. “These kids are going to change the world.”

Anderson said she wants to build friendships to last longer than the semester or the few years that her students spend at Baylor.

“I would hope that they’d learn about Texas culture and we learn about their culture and to have a connection with people around the world,” Anderson said.