Organization helps international students find second home
WISH helps international students feel at home for the holidays
January 30, 2020
It has been three and a half years since senior criminal justice major Nahawa Ada Sesay has gone home to see her family. Her home in Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa, is over 20 hours away. However, because of the NKU organization Welcoming International Students Home (WISH), Sesay has found her second family.
“I’ve learned that you don’t necessarily have to refer to people that you’re related with by blood as family. You will also refer to people that make you happy to spend quality amounts of time with as your family, and WISH is family for me,” Sesay said.
WISH was founded in August 2018 by the administrative secretary of the International Student Union, Toni Schneller, her husband Tom and NKU alumni Chris and Megan Cole when the four agreed that there needed to be more of a connection between international and domestic students.
The mission of WISH is to encourage friendships between the entire NKU student body and to develop an appreciation for other cultures in the process. Members of the organization participate in various activities together such as shopping, sporting events and bowling free of charge.
Besides making international students feel at home, WISH actually has a double meaning, Schneller said. “Wheels, Instruction, Support and Hospitality” serve as the principles for the organization’s volunteers. According to Schneller, the volunteers—which include NKU students, faculty and alumni—first go through hospitality training and then go on to provide international students with transportation to and from events organized by WISH, but also to and from the airport.
Within the last year, WISH’s airport pickup list has grown from 30 students to about 120, Schneller said.
President Brandon Hart and Vice President Abigail Jenkins, who are both from the U.S., create welcome boxes for students complete with essentials such as snacks and bedsheets, help the international students get familiar with the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area and help the founders organize and plan WISH events, particularly over campus breaks.
The international students that stay on campus during university breaks are the students that WISH reaches out to due to loneliness and depression being a serious problem, Hart said.
“Most times around the holidays, international students have to stay on campus while the rest of the students go home, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to be able to share my family’s Thanksgiving and holiday experiences with some of the students,” Hart said.
For students that are 3,000 miles away from home, WISH becomes their community, Schneller said. Last semester, Schneller welcomed about 20 students to her home for a late Thanksgiving feast on Nov. 30.
“I made to-go containers so that they’d have enough for Sunday; dorms are sad when there’s no meal service,” Schneller said.
According to Schneller, between 75 and 85 percent of international students never enter an American home or make friends with any domestic students.
“They basically just are with other international students on campus,” Schneller said.
Schneller considers it an honor and a privilege to get to know the international students involved with WISH.
“They just impress me so much and their ability to adapt and not only adapt, thrive; a lot of them learn to cook and they’re learning everything in a second language,” Schneller said.
Jenkins, who joined WISH in 2018, has invited international students to her home during past winter breaks to decorate Christmas cookies or go shopping. She said being involved has helped her learn to be a friend to everyone, “not just the people who look like or speak the same language as me.”
“Every person, culture and language is so beautifully unique and it’s so cool to be a part of an organization where we can celebrate our differences and what makes us special,” Jenkins said.