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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Center offers host families

Mississippi State University international students can now enjoy family life with local Starkville residents through the Borderless Hosts Program.
The program, open only to undergraduates, allows international students to meet with volunteer Starkville families at least once a month for dinner, shopping, traveling or other activities outside the classroom.
The program will last for five months, beginning Nov. 18, during International Education Week.
Shaz Akram, Holmes Cultural Diversity Center assistant director, said the volunteers serve as neighborly social hosts and are a great help to international students who come from family-oriented countries.
“I understand how valuable it is to have that family connection. After they get connected, [some] stay in touch for the rest of their lives,” she said. “They involve them in city life that they would not have access to otherwise.”
Akram said most international students do not have transportation and are not able to go to Walmart and department stores.
“When students come and live on campus, it’s the dorm, classroom, cafeteria. That’s their cycle. They don’t know anything else,” she said. “They don’t have transportation [and] not having a social security inhibits them from getting cell phones and so many things that they need.”
Students may choose to meet with their host families more than once a month, depending on their needs, Akram said.
Jerry Gilbert, Mississippi State University Provost and executive vice president, participated in the Borderless Hosts program. He invited his French international student, Elodie Thelliez, to his home and had dinner with her on a monthly basis.
“We really felt strongly connected to Elodie. She is a really delightful person,” he said. “Our two daughters interacted with her and went shopping and to social events with her and befriended her as an individual.”
Gilbert said his daughters provided Thelliez a friendship with individuals her own age, which helped her adjust to life in Starkville.
Joan Mylroie, geography instructor at MSU, has hosted international students for two years.
“Getting special time with an international graduate student has been extremely enriching for me,” she said in an e-mail. “It feels as though I have expanded my family.”
Host families also expose international students to American cultural centers.
“Some kids are taken to Memphis or Atlanta to see the Coke factory or aquarium,” Akram said. “Students are fascinated by the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. King memorials in Atlanta.”
She said not only does the student learn about the American way of life, but the host families learn about their international student’s way of life, making it a cross-cultural experience.
Gilbert said he learned about the French culture from his international student, particularly the food.
“There was more of an emphasis of quality of food and enjoyment of food than perhaps there is in American culture,” he said.
Host families should not influence the international student in any way that might be detrimental to his or her religious beliefs, Akram said.
“They cannot convert [the student] to any religious belief. They have to be neutral,” she- said. “If a Christian family has a Buddhist student, they should respect the Buddhist values of that student or be it Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or any kind of denomination other than the same the host family has with those students.”
Akram said she will speak with families and students monthly to make sure there are no conflicts.
Families are not obligated to provide monetary support to students. When students are taken to dinner, they are required to pay their own way, Akram said.
On Nov. 18, students will meet with their host families for the first time in Fawlkes Auditorium, Akram said.
There are currently 20 international students and 20 host families.
The Borderless Hosts Program was brought to MSU in spring 2008 by Hawken Brackett, who worked under MSU’s Global Leadership Program. The program was a joint venture between the university and the Starkville community.
“Brackett was an undergraduate student, and he had a lot of international friends,” Akram said. “I guess by working with them and hanging out with them, he realized the importance of assisting them, because [when] they come here they don’t have cars. They don’t have friends. They’re coming from another country.”
Beginning in August 2010, the Holmes Cultural Diversity Center began hosting the Borderless Host Program.
Akram said the program being under the diversity center is a good idea because it already assists international students in their transitioning to American and college life.
By next year, Akram hopes to open the program to international graduate students.

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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University
Center offers host families