International students feel at home for the holidays
When you come from a place like Zambia, Ecuador or Cyprus, going home for breaks and weekends isn’t always an option. But even though their families are far away, these students aren’t alone. They’ll always find an open door and a warm welcome with Ann Burkhead, Geneva’s director of International Student Services.
Burkhead invites students into her home throughout the year, but her annual Christmas party gives them a special sense of belonging. “It gives them something to look forward to and it’s a shared experience where they can build lasting memories,” Burkhead says. “I love facilitating that. In fact, I’ve always felt like I have the best job on campus!”
But Burkhead doesn’t just open her home to students from far places. All members of Geneva’s International Student Organization (ISO) — from America or abroad — are invited to join the Christmas celebration. Burkhead is the advisor for the ISO, which encourages interaction between the international students and the rest of the campus and community.
A typical ISO Christmas party at the Burkhead home consists of decorating the tree, exchanging gifts and eating dinner together. Sophia Jeune, a senior business major from Haiti, describes the Christmas party as warm, friendly and inviting. “Mrs. Burkhead always opens her house to us and tries to create a home away from home for her students,” she says.
This year, Burkhead and the ISO decided to spend the day in Pittsburgh before heading back for the usual festivities. They toured the festively-decorated Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, and then had lunch at Lulu’s Noodles in Oakland.
The ISO is a close-knit group and Burkhead’s home gives them a comfortable place for them to relax and be themselves. “After dinner one year, a very quiet and studious engineering student from Kenya taught everyone an African dance — it was like a whole other person come out in my basement!”
The goal of Geneva’s International Student Services office is to enable students from outside the U.S. to be comfortable and successful at Geneva College. Burkhead helps these students adjust to a new culture while assisting them with immigration, academic and student life issues.
“It is important for all of our students to have a global outlook and not everyone is able to study abroad,” she says. “But having international students on campus can serve that need—they are a real benefit.”