PAWS helps students, professors connect across cultures

Professor Randall Bradley (left) stands with Raffaele Idone (center) and Brenda Bradley (right). The Bradleys are part of PAWS, a program that connects international students with American professors or students. Courtesy Photo

By Corrie Coleman | Reporter

In August 2017, days before the start of the fall semester, Rome, graduate student Raffaele Idone attended a welcome dinner for international students. This is where he met Randall Bradley, director of the Church Music program and his wife Brenda, who were asked to host a table at the event. The Bradley’s and Idone immediately connected.

“I arrived here and I was quite tired … Then we had the dinner and I met the Bradleys,” Idone said. “I felt at home right away.”

Soon after, the Bradleys were asked to become a part of the People Around the Word Sharing (PAWS) program.

PAWS connects international students with American professors or students. Events like group trips around Texas and an annual Thanksgiving dinner give students and professors a chance to get to know each other. American professors and students help international students navigate a new culture and make the transition into life at Baylor. Often faced with culture shock as well as a language barrier, these relationships can be incredibly helpful and encouraging to international students while allowing Americans to grow and understand more about the world.

After the welcome dinner, the Bradleys invited Idone to their church, Calvary Baptist.

“They said ‘Will you come to church with us?’ and I said ‘Yeah why not?’” Idone said.

After this, Idone began regularly attending church with the Bradleys and eating Sunday lunch with them. Idone has now joined the church choir, providing him with opportunities to become more involved with the church community.

“We asked him if he would like to sing in the choir … and he just loved the music and being a part of the group,” Bradley said. “So that established him with an inter-generational community.”

Idone also joined the Bradleys for Thanksgiving, contributing an Italian dish to the meal.

“At Thanksgiving, he cooked this amazing lasagna that was so different than our lasagna and yet so wonderful and good,” Bradley said, smiling.

Idone explained the importance of having support and encouragement from a family while far from home. He said the kindness of families like the Bradleys can help ease the homesickness and culture shock that most international students experience.

“They made me feel that I had a family,” Idone said. “[At Baylor] I feel that I am a part of something, that I belong to a community.”

Bradley discussed how meaningful their friendship with Idone has been as they share stories, observations and even food. He believes that hospitality is often distorted by American culture into a one-sided relationship in which the host is expected to be the only person giving.

“True hospitality is a mutual gift-giving,” Bradley said. “I get the opportunity to benefit from your gifts, your life, your conversation and your experiences … Hospitality at its best and truest is not top-down.”

Although the couple has provided much for Idone, Bradley said in reality, Idone has given just as much to them.

“He is our friend and we are learning from him,” said Bradley. “We’re all in this together.”

Idone expressed his gratitude to the Bradleys, saying he hopes they can visit him one day in Italy.

“For whoever is going to come next here and be welcomed to the Bradleys, I am very jealous because they are a great family,” Idone said. “I really treasure these moments.”

Bradley wishes that more students and professors would build relationships with international students, whether through PAWS or on their own. He explained that this not only gives Americans a chance to encourage international students but also allows their view of the world to expand.

“Anytime that we can lock arms with someone from another culture, another country, another context, that’s truly important. And from a Christian perspective, I think that’s core to what we should be a Christ followers,” Bradley said. “By seeing God in someone else, your God grows.”