While Christmas can be a joyous time of being together, making new memories and enjoying festive meals, it can also be lonely. Especially for people who live far away from their homes and families.
With this in mind, UBC Okanagan’s Global Engagement Office and the College of Graduate Studies are testing a pilot project to match international students spending winter break in the Okanagan. Host for the Holidays connects graduate students with faculty and staff who will invite them into their homes for a meal during the break.
Dale Mullings, UBCO Associate Vice-President, Students, says when he heard about the program, he quickly signed up and will host two graduate students in his own home at Christmas.
“For my wife Erin and I, we saw this as an opportunity to open our home to students who may not be able to be with family over the holiday season, just as we would hope someone would do for one of our children,” he explains. “We feel very fortunate to be hosting two students, one from India and one from Turkey and hope to learn about their academic research, life abroad and their plans for the future. It will be exciting for our young children to learn about their experiences.”
UBCO currently has more than 1,350 graduate students, and about 40 per cent of them are international students. Host for the Holidays was introduced to graduate students as a pilot project, mainly because it is a smaller cohort, explains International Student Advisor Nora Lambrecht.
“This is the time of year when we need to reach out and ensure our international students do not feel isolated, especially with their own families so far away,” Lambrecht adds. “But this is also a great opportunity for the hosts to learn about the rich culture international students bring to our campus and community.”
Each host has offered to welcome between two to four students to their home, and this year, 29 people, including partners and their families, will be hosted by faculty and staff. This is the first year UBCO has tried this initiative, and Lambrecht hopes it will continue.
Sebastian Kolesar, UBCO International Student Advisor, is a dual citizen of both Brazil and Canada. He says he’s happy to participate as someone who strives to learn more about other cultures. Not only has Kolesar studied and volunteered overseas, but has also worked in international student support for more than five years. He can poignantly remember moments of feeling homesick while away from his family and has witnessed it while working with students.
“During my time as an international student, I experienced isolation, homesickness, loneliness, dislocation, and issues related to adapting to the culture in the host country where I was an uninvited guest and settler,” he says. “Additionally, as someone with a transnational identity, I often sought out opportunities to engage with cultural food, music, and traditions that reminded me of both my paternal and maternal homes.”
Graduate student Tanmaya Karmarker left her hometown in India in August 2022 to come to UBCO to work on her master’s degree in computer science. Her eventual goals are to complete a doctorate and work in research or teaching at a university. Karmarker looks forward to meeting her hosts and is happy the invitation has been extended, so her two sons are also welcome.
“I was excited to hear about this program because I would like to know more about the Okanagan, and this is a perfect way to interact with local residents,” she adds. “I would like my sons to do more than just study, socialize, and learn about Canada and its people. This seems like a perfect opportunity, and it is a good idea for UBCO to start this initiative. It is also nice of the hosts to make us all feel welcome here.”
Meanwhile, Kolesar says he also looks forward to introducing the international students to his partner and their two kittens.
“I will be hosting two students, who will be welcome to join my family to share food, stories, and company. We hope to explore shared experiences and learn more about each other in a comforting environment,” he says. “It is always a privilege to extend hospitality to those who may not have the same support system in their host communities. As a UBCO employee, it’s a remarkable privilege to learn from and alongside the incredible students we work with daily.”