Each year, students from around the world come to Baylor seeking to experience American college life and culture. At Baylor, they also find a group dedicated to helping them embrace the journey. People Around the World Sharing (PAWS) is a valued program offered by the Baylor Center for International Education for more than 20 years.
PAWS has been providing non-U.S. students with an additional way to engage in the American culture. PAWS partners 80 to 100 international students each fall with families in the Waco community, offering friendship and an opportunity for the international student and the family to learn about another culture.
"The transition to Baylor is tough for international students," said Melanie Smith, international student relations coordinator. "Not only is the language and culture different than what they are accustomed to, but so is the class model. PAWS provides the student with a supportive learning environment while they become adjusted."
Families involved in PAWS are encouraged to invite their international student partners to their homes, include them in family activities, check in on the students a few times during the month, be a friend and share cultures. The actual time commitment is up to the family and the student. Smith notes international students usually are eager to take part in U.S. traditions, such as activities associated with Thanksgiving, from the meal to watching football games and perhaps enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving nap.
Dr. Joseph McKinney, professor and The Ben H. Williams Professor in International Economics, became involved with PAWS soon after the program was started and after he and his family had spent a year in Japan. His family hosts three students from Iran, Greece and Bulgaria.
"From our experiences with international students we gain insights into ways in which America is viewed in other countries, the challenges that people in other countries sometimes face and the differences in how the world is viewed by people from other cultures," McKinney said. "Our interaction with international students was especially valuable to our children as they were growing up, giving them a broader perspective on the world than they would have gained otherwise."
"We currently have more than 10 faculty and staff participating in PAWS, including President Ken Starr and First Lady Alice Starr," Smith said. "Faculty and staff are ideal families for the program because they are familiar with the educational environment at Baylor and are typically very accessible for the student. It is very easy for the student to drop by their office, attend their lecture or meet them for dinner at a residence hall."
PAWS can be a life-changing experience for the family and the student, enriching the student's education and oftentimes creating life-long relationships.
Dr. Brett Wilkinson, associate professor and The Roderick L. Holmes Chair of Accountancy, has participated in PAWS for more than nine years. While each experience is different, he said his family learns something new with each student. They continue to keep in touch with many of their student partners.
Wilkinson and his wife first came to the U.S. from Australia as international students, and they can relate to what their international students are experiencing.
"We understand some of the challenges that these students face. We also remember how much we benefited by having families 'adopt' us for a time and welcome us into their homes. We are now U.S. citizens and we love living here, but we still remember what it was like to be strangers and 'aliens,'" Wilkinson said. "We have enjoyed being able to help students from other countries get to experience some of America and Texas."
Faculty and staff interested in participating in
PAWS may visit www.baylor.edy/cie and fill out the PAWS family application, or contact Smith at 710-4825 for additional information.