Every December, Auburn’s campus gets very quiet as students, faculty and staff leave for a well-deserved winter break. However, not everyone can go home.
“During the semester, international students can engage in a lot of campus activities and cultural groups’ celebrations, but the holidays can be lonely,” said Laura Fuller, coordinator of the Graduate School’s InterConnect program.
There are more than 1,200 international graduate students studying at Auburn. The goals of InterConnect are to welcome those students to campus and give them opportunities to experience American culture. The program sponsors community outings, support groups and seminars that cover topics ranging from how to get around town to Auburn football and traditions.
One of the most popular initiatives is Holiday Hosts, a program where students are invited to dinner at a community member’s home to get a literal taste of the holidays. Some students get to attend a traditional Thanksgiving meal, while those staying in the States through the new year can experience a festive gathering in late December.
Layli Miron, associate director of Auburn’s Office of University Writing, and her husband, Sergey, served as Holiday Hosts last year, and they truly enjoyed sharing a meal with both old and new friends.
“My husband, Sergey, and I are members of the Bahá’í Faith, so bringing people of diverse backgrounds together is important to us,” Miron said. “Our guests were both international students and local immigrant friends from places including Nigeria, Mexico, China, Iran, Burkina Faso and Nepal, and they told us about wintertime holidays like Yalda Night and the Chinese New Year, in addition to various traditions for the Gregorian New Year. We immensely enjoyed learning about celebrations from the participants’ home countries.”
While many Holiday Hosts are Auburn faculty and staff, some come from the outside organization Friends of Internationals (FOI). This local nonprofit has been in existence for years and has recently rebooted its operations, organizing volunteers to pick up international students at the Atlanta airport and holding a furniture drive to help furnish their apartments.
“We want international students to feel welcome, and we want members of the community to know we have students here from all over the world,” Fuller said. “They have a chance to experience cross-cultural exchanges with people from other countries, and it just enhances life for both sides.”
Fuller pulls double duty as the InterConnect coordinator and a leader of FOI. She spends her days working with students on campus and her evenings and weekends organizing FOI volunteers and events.
“InterConnect is a way for students to be aware of resources available in the community,” she said. “Through InterConnect, I’m able to set up a system for students to register for Holiday Hosts dinners and help coordinate transportation,” she said. “Sometimes it gets confusing for the students, but I try to explain I have a dual role where I work on campus and I just happen to volunteer my time with something I feel is valuable.”
Fuller has dozens of students interested in having dinner at a host’s home but hasn’t had quite as much response from potential hosts as she did last year.
“We had some larger events at Thanksgiving where we could extend an invitation for 20 to 40 guests, but we only had a few of the in-home hosts, and we need more for late December,” she said. “It’s a festive time for most people in the community, and I would love to have more students experience that.”
To volunteer as a Holiday Host, please contact Laura Fuller at email@example.com.