Over 20 years ago my husband and I traveled the Al-Can (Alaska-Canadian Highway) to move from our home in Alaska so I could pursue a graduate degree in California. Little did we know then how our lives would become intimately involved with hundreds – maybe even thousands – of international students from all over the world.
We took three weeks meandering down the highway – camping, exploring…and praying.
We asked God for a common ministry direction. And more boldness in our faith. Sensitive boldness to share the Hope that dwells within us in fresh ways.
God answered both prayers. He ran us into a couple working with international students. That ministry outreach – in various permutations – has been a part of our lives ever since.
Here are 10 reasons why we believe reaching out to international students holds so much value:
(1) You learn from them, they learn from you.
This is a great way to learn about what people from another culture are like, how they think and what matters to them. Some might say it’s like traveling abroad, but on the cheap!
Having an international student in your life expands your worldview. It sharpens your understanding of what is going on in the world outside of our borders. It differs from listening to the news, watching a movie or reading a book because of the relational component. You are making a friend across cultural lines. This adds depth to your own understanding.
Do you like to share your expertise? International students are often very eager to learn, especially when it involves English. Remember, in most cases, they are crossing the language barrier.
Sometimes it can be tough, but surprisingly often it can appear seamless (to you). You probably have something to share. It might be about parenting, the stock market, crafting, technology, driving a car, business, bargain shopping, or hiking in the area. Your international student friend is likely to be an interested and avid learner.
(2) They have a need for connection.
International students need relationship with locals, especially families, to genuinely understand what life in that country is like.
In fact, even now, fewer than 20% of all international students (college-aged and above) ever make it into an American home. So, what are their impressions of our country based upon? You can imagine.
(3) Turn it around.
Think about what it would be like when you visit another country – especially if you live there – to be invited into a local’s home for a special meal, or even just tea. Wouldn’t that be a memorable experience for your otherwise touristy understanding of the country and its people?
(4) You are an ambassador for your country.
You may not realize it, but you can become the primary means through which your international student friend really comes to know your country’s culture and its people.
No matter what your values or beliefs, you can see that reaching out in this way offers a powerful platform of influence. One person at a time.
This is where true influence happens anyway. You can, indeed, be an ambassador for peace – a true peacemaker – through a single relationship. In the grand scheme of things, this is genuine impact.
(5) International students impact our economy now and will often impact their country – and maybe the world – in the future.
Taking a quick look at the infographic to the right, you can see the annual impact of the almost one million international students on the U.S. economy.
It is no small figure.
Also important to keep in mind is that over 40% of the world’s current leaders were once international students in the U.S. That number grows if you add other countries open to international students in the mix. Often, these international students are with us during a formative stage of their lives. You can bet their study-abroad experience will influence their future leadership styles and decisions.
(6) Reaching out to them pushes you. When you live in your own country, without even recognizing it – kind of like the fish in the fish bowl – you can become way comfortable and complacent.
But being stretched, whether in the gym or through a tough educational program, is healthy for us. It keeps our mind fresh, causes us to take on new territory in our own lives.
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” Perhaps you’ve heard this quotation widely attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. This means to stretch yourself out of that comfort zone. Try it!
(7) Be a blessing.
Whether you’re riding high, or in a season of slump, reaching outside of yourself and demonstrating genuine interest in and care for others not only blesses them, but it blesses you, too! As this happens, you elevate two people at a time. What a deal!
Some might view it from the perspective of chalking up “karma points.” But if you play that game, you will allow yourself to fall into a trap of always keeping score.
Rather, delight in the process, and you will see the benefits almost immediately. Develop it as a habit, and in time, you will change your life plus impact the lives of those you bless. Good deal!
(8) Compound your interest.
The cool thing about when we invest in relationships most of the time is that we discover we end up getting more good back than we originally thought. It is life enhancing!
There is a story in the Bible about a widow who had a son and had very little food and drink. The prophet Elijah visited her and asked for food. Her initial reaction was one of doubt; she barely had enough for her and her son!
But in obedience, she kneaded a small ball of dough and made bread. God repaid her by filling her vessels with oil and flour so she could make more. Out of her lack, God produced enough.
The application? As we invest of ourselves and especially our limited time, God will produce enough – and sometimes even more than we expect!
(9) You’ve got someone to visit
As you develop your friendship with one or more international students, you will develop friends for the long term. They will be changed by what you’ve poured into their lives. You will have an open invitation to visit them in their country and a tour guide to help.
Most cultures do hospitality better than we do in the States, so realize that if you visit them, you will get near-royal treatment. You will likely become a “celebrity” in their family and perhaps among their friends.
And, back to point (3) above, you will get a chance to “get inside” a real family’s life in…China, Ghana, Japan, Germany, Peru, Singapore, Hungary…wherever that student friend is from.
(10) For Christ-followers, we’re commanded to love the stranger in our midst.
Deuteronomy 10:19 in the Old Testament tells the Jewish people to “love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.”
And in the New Testament, Hebrews 13:1 exhorts us to “…not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Extending this hospitality, the open heart, is the key ingredient in expanding the love of Christ into a hurting world. It may start with obedience but, like the widow mentioned in (8) above, we will discover God’s compounding of interest in our lives.
So, what’s your excuse NOT to get involved? Can you give me a well-reasoned list of 10 points? Are you ready to take the next step? If so, try connecting here.
Image Credit: University of Fraser Valley on Flickr, Creative Commons
Infographic courtesy of NAFSA (National Association of Foreign Student Advisors). Graph above is based on figures for the 2014-15 school year. Full information can be found here.