Updated: Feb 17, 2022
By Carol Kleywegt and Irene Wong
Despite canceling the program last year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Kansas City host families opened their homes this past December 2021 to five international students who were able to experience Christmas in Kansas City. The outreach was part of the Kansas City Christmas International House (CIH), a ministry of the Village Presbyterian Church of Kansas City and AMIS.
The students were hosted by volunteers who shared their family traditions during the Christmas season. The students also enjoyed a range of activities including sightseeing outings to the National World War I Museum, the American Jazz Museum, the Kansas City Zoo and area art museums. The weather cooperated so there was ample opportunity to be outside. And thankfully, no one was affected by COVID-19 spread.
Like many international students, the CIH students were unable to return to their home countries during the winter break. This unique host program provided scholars from Pakistan, India, Japan and Afghanistan the opportunity to interact and establish friendships with everyday Americans in the heart of the U.S. The students and host families bonded over cooking, sharing pets and hearing stories from their respective cultures. Thanks to the students’ sharing their cooking skills, the host families now have new recipes to add international flair to their future meals.
The friendships extended far beyond the human level. Fulbright scholar Dawood,
from Afghanistan won over the heart of his host families’ dog Badger. According to CIH director, Judy Miller, “Winning over Badger is NOT easy to do!” Taslim Murad from Pakistan, a Ph.D. student at Georgia State University, also bonded with her host’s pet, Nellie. She said, “Playing with Nellie was real fun. I wished to take her with me.”
The CIH event provided the students with opportunities to meet other scholars from around the country. Dawood, who is a Masters student in Public Health at Georgia State University, took the initiative to meet with other Fulbright Scholars while he visited the Kansas City area.
Shun Ashiya, an English Language student from Japan at Southeast Missouri State University, reflected back on his experience with CIH, “Even though I have spent one year in the US, I was still feeling nervous on the way to Kansas City. . . But thanks to wonderful people, the experience of CIH became my precious memory. [My CIH hosts and other students] gave me so much kindness, which meant a lot to me. It has always been my dream to make friends from many countries. CIH made my dream come true. Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to be a part of CIH 2021.”
According to Kansas City CIH Co-Director Donna Dehn, “Every year we say ‘that was the best group of students we’ve ever had’, and I know we felt that way again this year.”
For over 50 years, the Christmas International House (CIH) has been a unique program for international college and university students and scholars to experience friendship and hospitality with an American host community during winter break. Through CIH, international students are able to travel and explore a new American city, experience what it is like to live in an American home and develop life-changing friendships with Americans and other international students.
“Everything was so much fun and a new experience. I really love visiting the World War I Museum and the zoo. It was my first visit to any zoo in the United States and it was worth going.” – Hafsa Farooq, (Georgia State PhD student from Pakistan)