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Gabriela Fuentes, a second year masters student studying communication and development, poses for a portrait among the flags at the International Street Festival on Saturday. (LIZ MOUGHON | PHOTO EDITOR)

Navigating family-oriented events as an international student

Ohio University is a hub of student life and prides itself on its inclusive atmosphere for students of all backgrounds. However, for international students, participating in family-oriented events like Sibs Weekend or Parents Weekend can be challenging. These events, which aim to bring families together on campus, can often lead to feelings of homesickness for students who are unable to participate or attend with their families.

International students make up a significant portion of OU's student body, at almost 4% of students, and the university has taken great strides in recent years to support and integrate them into the campus community. Despite these efforts, many international students continue to face difficulties participating in events such as Sibs Weekend or Parents Weekend.

One of the primary challenges faced by international students is the cost and logistics of bringing family members from overseas to attend these events. The cost of travel and accommodation can be substantial, making it difficult for many international students to participate.

Hashim Pashtun, a PhD student in the civil engineering department and a former president of the International Student Union at Ohio University, said these weekends can leave international students longing for that experience. 

"I'm happy for other Bobcats to see them with their family members, (without) prejudice or jealousy,” Pashtun said. “But, of course, it makes us miss our family members as well, or having that desire, that wish. I can show this beautiful campus or my college life, my room, or introduce them to my friends, to my parents or my siblings. So you have that feeling, and I'm sure many international students share the same feeling."

Pashtun said there are complex emotions international students can experience during such weekends, where they see their peers with their families but also feel a sense of longing for their own loved ones. This sentiment is not unique to Pashtun, who highlights the common struggles faced by the international student community.

Beckham Low, a junior from Malaysia studying biological sciences, said it is important for communities to make active efforts to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for international students. During Parent's Weekend or Sibs Weekend, he has had the opportunity to interact with the families of his American peers, gaining a deeper understanding of American culture and family dynamics.

“I got to hang out with them (friends' parents) and eat lunch with them on College Street,” he said. “I got to hear stories of OU, how they were like, because they were alumni of OU. So they were here 20-30 years ago, so (I heard) how everything was, which was actually pretty funny. It's actually really cool because Clippinger used to be part of the Hocking River and would flood almost all the time.”

Similarly, Pashtun said he has had experiences of being welcomed into the homes of faculty, graduates, alumni and friends. He said they often invite him to their homes for holidays such as Thanksgiving and cookouts in the summer.

He said this warm hospitality and sense of belonging are a testament to the tight-knit community at the university and the importance of family in creating a supportive environment for international students. These moments of connection provide international students with a sense of comfort, particularly during holidays when they may be away from their own families.

However, the emotional distance can have a profound impact on international students, as they may miss significant family events such as birthdays, holidays and other special occasions. The time difference between their host and home countries can further compound these feelings of homesickness and separation.

Despite these challenges, many international students find ways to stay connected with their families. Through the use of technology, they are able to maintain regular communication and stay updated on each other's lives.

Tithi Patel, a sophomore from India studying nursing, expressed the difficulties of staying in touch with her family, who are located in both India and Saudi Arabia. With her family members in different time zones, it can be challenging to find a mutually convenient time to connect.

“So I call them, especially my parents … every single day or whenever I get time,” she said. “Like before I sleep or after I wake up, and my sister, who is back in India, I usually call her like once in a week or twice in a week.”

Ohio University has made great efforts to support and integrate international students into the campus community, but there is still room for improvement in addressing the unique challenges faced by this group of students. 

“They should have events for everyone and they are the ones who are organizing it and not any of the international organizations,” Patel said. “I feel it's because not a lot of people know all those international organizations. It's difficult to reach out to people but if our university makes an event to which is open to everyone (people might engage).”

To further enhance the experience of international students at OU, Patel said the university should make an effort to ensure all students feel seen during family-oriented weekends. 


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