Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

University students reach out to international peers

A group of students at a local church is trying to make the transition to American life a little easier for international students on campus.

The International Student Ministry, now in its second year, is run through Bama Wesley with the goal of connecting students from other countries with students at The University of Alabama who want to support them.

“Many international students have difficulty making American friends and plugging into American culture as exchange students,” Mike Nakayama, the leader of the program, said. “Many of our American students already have an interest in other cultures and languages, so they have a natural draw to connect with international students. ISM is just a matter of organizing and encouraging them to be intentional in understanding and meeting the challenges faced by their international friends.”

Participant Austin Rhyne said he got involved because he felt a connection to international students.

“I’m an out-of-state student,” Rhyne said. “Obviously for them it’s very different, but it’s something I can relate to, just being somewhere different without friends.”

Through the program, students meet with international students, practice English, learn about the international students’ cultures, have international dinners and do a coffee hour every Friday.

“It’s interesting to hear their different values and things as simple as food,” Rhyne said. “Food is [a] very common topic among cultures. It was interesting to see things as little as like, ‘Why is your water so cold,’ or ‘Why is fruit sliced this way?’ It’s interesting to see when they come over these are the things they pick up and notice.”

Rhyne said one of the most popular activities in the program is soccer, which includes impromptu games on the Rec Center fields.

Kurstyn Montez, who got involved last year and has started a Bible study group within the program, said working with international students taught her to be intentional with the relationships she makes.

“Many of the international students just wanted one American friend,” Montez said. “I’m proud to say that I’m just that to several people. My conversation partner from last spring still will call me up on Skype and practice her English with me. I believe that we help them learn our customs and languages without the fear of us judging them.”

Nakayama said what makes the program different from other international programs offered through the University is the optional church services for students interested in attending. They offer service and small groups Tuesday nights and a program that connects students to a Chinese church with services in Chinese.

“While we serve and love with an unapologetic love for Jesus, I coach our students to never serve out of an agenda to convert,” Nakayama said. “We encourage our students to intentionally use their time to serve and bless, and whether spiritual conversation comes up or not, we must love people well.”

Rhyne said he enjoyed learning about other cultures and that he benefited from the program just as much as the students he was working with.

“I think it helps a lot for those students, but I think it helps us as much,” Rhyne said. “It’s just a great growing experience for everyone that’s involved, and it’s really great for a lot of people. That’s my personal favorite part of it: those natural friendships just blooming. I love that so much.”


More to Discover