CAIR program to facilitate international students’ experiences on campus

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Photo courtesy of Petra Knoche

International students partake in activities at the Welcome Event

Rachel Yim, Senior Reporter

Host families play an important role in shaping the experience of an international student. The CAIR program (Creating American-International Relationships) at Oakland University facilitates these relationships.

Started by Petra Knoche, international adviser with the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) along with her graduate assistant from Pakistan, the program offers an opportunity for international students to be matched with local students and their families for friendship, conversation and cultural exchange. These students are matched through CAIR and enjoy family meals, celebrations and activities with their CAIR partner (OU faculty, staff or community families).

As an international adviser, Knoche mainly advises international students and scholars on their Visa requirements, what their responsibilities are once they arrive on campus, authorizing their employment, helping assimilate them to American culture and planning social activities for them.

Coming from the Czech Republic as a 19-year-old international student athlete, Knoche expressed her gratitude for her host family and her first memories she made with the family in the U.S.

“I was very fortunate I had an American Host Family I was able to live with, drive to school with, practice my English with, eat meals with and learn about American culture daily through little interactions or deeper conversations,” Knoche said.

The moment she realized the urgency of such a program was when she found out that not every international student at OU are often randomly put in on-campus housing with people who may not appreciate their international background.

“When I would meet with students who were ready to graduate it became eye opening for me to hear that they have not met an American friend or were ever invited to an American dinner, celebration such as Halloween, Thanksgiving etc., ” she said. “They were not able to share and educate the people around them about their culture, beliefs, family traditions or their holidays and meals.”

Knoche shared a response from one of the international students:

“I am from India and have been an international student myself and understand what it means to be in some other country away from family and friends and how settling in a new place is not easy. I lived in India for about 6 months as a volunteer and love to study other cultures. I took Spanish for 8 years so I know a small amount. In general, I love to lend a helping hand. I am fluent in German and have lived in Germany before. I have been to many countries in Europe and am always open to new cultures and experiences. I would consider myself to be a very inclusive person and think programs like this one are outstanding and amazing for every participant.”

In an effort to introduce the students, ISSO recently hosted a welcome event on Friday, Sept. 24 at the Auburn Hills Christian Center, where 50 students and hosts gathered to build new relationships.

Currently, there are 30 students signed up this year for the program and 25 newly signed up OU faculty and staff to serve as hosts for these students. For those who are interested in signing up to be a host, fill out the online form.

ISSO plans to host a Halloween party on Friday, Oct. 29, a Thanksgiving event on Nov. 17, and a variety of Holiday activities after the finals in December. They also have Coffee Hours for anyone to attend. There are free pastries and coffee/tea at each of the coffee hours.

“I can’t tell you how many times over the years the hosts came up to me thanking me that it was the best experience and they were the one benefiting from it,” she said.”

To learn more about the CAIR program, watch the CAIR video or visit the ISSO website.