Partnering Program bridges gap between international students and Texas culture

People Around The World Sharing (PAWS) was created to bridge the gap between international students and American culture. Photo courtesy of Baylor University.

By Savannah Cooper | Reporter

In efforts to bridge that gap from a daunting one-way flight to the initial overwhelming experiences of a first-year student at Baylor, People Around The World Sharing (PAWS) was created.

For over 25 years, PAWS connects an incoming or current international student with a domestic student and/or family with hopes of making their transition as smooth as possible. At its core, this program matches like-minded individuals who share the same goals such as learning about Baylor or learning about American culture.

International programs coordinator, Brandon Hoye, filled the shoes of former PAWS program coordinator Melanie Smith. before she retired this past summer. Prior to working in the Center for Global Engagement (CGE) office, Hoye worked in spiritual life within cross-cultural ministries while pursuing his graduate degree.

Hoye said he knows that international students are initially excited about the new scenery and opportunities, but they get a great amount of culture shock too. That’s where PAWS comes in with assistance.

“In the first couple of weeks it’s always exciting, then I think for a lot of our students in this program they go through kind of that culture shock of just like okay I’m here and oh there’s all these different expectations,” Hoye said. “That’s one of the ways we try to kind of formulate our programming through PAWS through the different trips to be able to help them get connected to that assistance.”

Although there’s nothing required of PAWS participants, once they’re matched the CGE office offers them several opportunities to explore the greater Waco and Texas community around them. International students and their U.S. student or family are invited to an annual trip to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Space Center, Texas Ranger baseball game, party at a traditional Texas ranch, visit to Austin’s H Mart and much more.

From his experience working within cross-culture experiences, Hoye has found time and time again that there’s always one thing that brings everyone together.

“One of the best ways to be able to bring people together regardless is having food,” Hoye said. “Food brings people together. As part of being a welcoming community, we want to be aware of what people preferences might be and what their beliefs are too because that helps us understand each other better.”

International students make up nearly 4 percent of Baylor’s campus and within the past academic year, PAWS paired at least 20 international students with U.S. students and families. From years past, Hoye found that there have been dozens of PAWS pairings who still meet today.

Director of International Student and Scholar Services Dr. Mark Bryant wants people outside of the CGE office to know and recognize that Baylor is a global campus.

“In this office we know we’re a global campus, it would be nice if we really had that same sense out in the larger Baylor community,” Bryant said.

To apply to be a U.S. student friend, family or if you’re an international student seeking to join, each unique application is on the PAWS program website. However, Hoye is looking forward to revolutionizing the application process by streamlining it so that it’s all online and will go directly to the CGE office.

“I would hope PAWS would be a fully digitized application system where we’re able to incorporate a lot and invite of our PAWS students along with their American friends and families to attend our different events,” Hoye said. “I want PAWS to be a measurable space where we can see the impact that it’s being able to provide.”

Regardless of your major, hobbies or international experience, Hoye encourages all who are attracted to the program to apply for it.

“Even if you haven’t studied abroad or left the state, you have one of the best ways to get a better understanding about what it looks like from a global perspective of being able to befriend one of the international students that we have here,” Hoye said. “They have a valuable perspectives that we get to be able to interact with and learn from here in the heart of Texas.”