The Sunflower

Far from home for the holidays: International students make the most of the season

Malaysian+international+students+Jerome+Jun+Chang+Teoh+%28left%29+and+Christopher+Mong+En+Leong+%28right%29+sit+in+the+Rhatigan+Student+Center.+Both+are+staying+on+campus+over+the+holidays.
Back to Article
Back to Article

Far from home for the holidays: International students make the most of the season

Malaysian international students Jerome Jun Chang Teoh (left) and Christopher Mong En Leong (right) sit in the Rhatigan Student Center. Both are staying on campus over the holidays.

Malaysian international students Jerome Jun Chang Teoh (left) and Christopher Mong En Leong (right) sit in the Rhatigan Student Center. Both are staying on campus over the holidays.

Audrey Korte

Malaysian international students Jerome Jun Chang Teoh (left) and Christopher Mong En Leong (right) sit in the Rhatigan Student Center. Both are staying on campus over the holidays.

Audrey Korte

Audrey Korte

Malaysian international students Jerome Jun Chang Teoh (left) and Christopher Mong En Leong (right) sit in the Rhatigan Student Center. Both are staying on campus over the holidays.

On a mild, late-December afternoon, three students walk into the RSC and sit by the Christmas tree. Other than a few employees leaving their offices, the building is deserted. Many students go home for the holidays, but these students can’t this year. They are three of the roughly 1,600 international students at Wichita State who must navigate holidays, birthdays, and celebrations without their loved ones.

Christopher Mong En Leong has been through this before.

“I haven’t been back since I came here,” Leong said.

That was two years ago.

Leong said it’s difficult being so far from his parents and younger sister. His family canceled a recently planned trip here because his grandmother got sick. He’s not sure if they can reschedule it.

“I’m really close with my parents — really close with my family,” Leong said. “I Skype with my parents every week for at least two hours.”

Leong is one of about 90 Malaysian students at WSU. In 2016, he came to the U.S. from Melaka, Malaysia — over 9,000 miles away — to go to community college in Illinois. He hoped to transfer to the University of Illinois or the University of Chicago but transferred to WSU last spring because it was cheaper.

Other than a trip to Kansas City, his holiday plans are up in the air.

Jerome Jun Chang Teoh is also from Malaysia. He hasn’t been home in over a year and isn’t sure when he’ll return.

“I still really miss my friends in my hometown,” Teoh said. “That is the place I grew up. I know how to do everything there.”

Since he can’t be there in person, Teoh sent presents to his family this year as a surprise.

Nursing student Eunjung Kathy Choi is about to spend her first Christmas away from home. Her family lives in Changwon, South Korea. But she won’t be on her own this year. Her mother and sister are about to arrive in the U.S. for their first visit. The three will travel to California and Las Vegas together.

Her father and brother won’t be coming because of work. Choi is not sure when she will see her father and brother again.

“I’m graduating next semester, in May, but my dad is really busy,” Choi said. “He really doesn’t get vacation too much so I hope he’s coming in May.”

But it may not be possible. If Choi stays in the U.S. after she graduates, it could be years before her whole family is together again.

“I have friends here, and they’re really caring,” Choi said. “They always invite me to join with their families.”

Teoh and Choi said the thing they miss most from home is their mom’s cooking. Choi hopes her mother will cook for her when she visits, but she’s not sure there will be time with their travel plans She wants her mom’s Korean soup, but if it’s not possible, she’ll be happy just to see them. She said she feels lucky they’re coming all this way. It gives her something to look forward to for a holiday away from home.

International students have to be creative with holiday planning to keep from feeling isolated or depressed. Not all students celebrate holidays that are common in the U.S., or they celebrate a holiday such as Christmas with different traditions than they find here.

Rod Bevan wants to keep international students from feeling alone during the holidays. As campus staff for International Students Inc. Wichita (ISI), Bevan works to link local families with international students for holiday meals and other family-centered experiences.

The International Students, Inc. network serves over 500 colleges and universities across the country. Bevan said it’s a Christian organization that works with churches of multiple denominations in Wichita to give international students a home for a holiday.

According to Bevan, the goal is to fill a void for these students while offering a cultural experience.

“Part of that cultural experience is simply experiencing an American home,” Bevan said. “Seventy percent of international students never get invited into American homes. We would love to see more students getting that experience.”

Bevan and his wife help international students get through the holidays by inviting them over.

“We invite over a handful of students — 10 to 15 — and just serve a traditional Christmas meal,” Bevan said. “Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and green bean casserole — all the Christmas stuff and I read the Christmas story from Luke, chapter two. After that, we just hang out for the evening and laugh together and play board games and enjoy our time together.”

Students don’t need to be Christians to join in. Bevan welcomes any international student to participate.

“Some are curious. They want to find out more about Christianity and the Christian aspects of Christmas, and for others, it’s just part of the cultural experience,” Bevan said.

Other Wichitans welcome students into their homes too. Volunteers sign up to host these students over the holidays.

For those interested in helping students for more than one holiday, ISI has a friendship partner program. At the beginning of each semester, volunteers sign up as international student sponsors. Interested students get matched up with them to develop a long-term relationship with a local family.

“The hope is that once students get matched up with a family, then that partnership will last the duration of the students time at WSU.”

If the relationship works out, the sponsors invite their students over periodically throughout the semester.

“A lot of those turn into long-term friendships, so they end up inviting the students back at Christmas,” Bevan said. “A lot of times, the students bring their friends. Sometimes, they’ll have four or five students in their homes at Christmas, and it all started with the student we matched them up with at the beginning of the term.”

Leong and Teoh are both members of ISI.

Teoh said he’s not sure how he’ll spend Christmas this year, but he’s interested in attending the Bevans’ Christmas dinner.

Teoh said his parents have been calling him a lot lately. At times it feels stifling.

“In the last six months, I feel like it was too much. But lately, I miss them again,” Teoh said. “I don’t know, maybe it’s the holiday. I miss them. I feel like I should call them back.”

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Navigate Left
  • Far from home for the holidays: International students make the most of the season

    Campus

    Free Wichita Transit rides for WSU students, staff coming soon

  • Far from home for the holidays: International students make the most of the season

    Local

    Brinkley asks group at TKAAM to reexamine the term ‘unity’

  • Far from home for the holidays: International students make the most of the season

    Columns

    Korte: 98 years after its introduction, ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment is long overdue

  • Far from home for the holidays: International students make the most of the season

    Arts & Culture

    Ulrich debuts programs to showcase faculty, student research

  • Far from home for the holidays: International students make the most of the season

    News

    Indonesian tsunami hits close to home for sisters studying at WSU

Navigate Right