Approximately 1,640 students from more than 100 countries enroll as international students at the University of Kentucky each year. As assimilating into a new culture presents a challenge for many of them, the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) in the University of Kentucky International Center has a program to provide them with renowned Lexington hospitality.
The International Hospitality Program (IHP) matches international students with volunteer hosts and host families, based on common interests or hobbies for a calendar year. Though students do not live with their hosts, the program aims to provide international students with culturally rich experiences outside the classroom. Hosts introduce the students to Lexington and include them in activities, such as sports events, sightseeing, concerts, movies, hiking and shopping. More hosts are needed for the upcoming school year.
The program requires no financial obligation — just the time commitment of meeting with the students.
Elif Bengu, international student affairs adviser within the UK International Center said the program helps tremendously to ease international students into American ways of life.
"Getting to experience the culture in their time away from books and labs can really enrich students’ perception of the value of studying in the U.S.," Bengu said. "Our goal is to get students off campus and into homes so they can have a different impression of American life than ones they get in movies and on TV."
Bengu said that the program often produces life-long friendships among students and hosts.
"The benefits aren’t limited to the students," Bengu said. "The program is an excellent opportunity for cultural exchange. Hosts get to 'travel' without ever leaving Lexington, as students share with them the culture and foods of their own homes."
Most students and hosts are paired at the beginning of each semester — early September and January. Hosts often meet students at the airport. IHP also offers various group activities for hosts and their students throughout the year such as ice cream socials, an IHP/Rotary picnic, celebrations of American holidays and shopping trips.
ISSS supports more than 1,500 international students and scholars attending the University of Kentucky by providing: immigration advising and assisting with travel documents; permission to work; transfers and extensions of stay; social programs and activities that help students learn about life on campus; opportunities for community involvement; help with language translation; and teaching children through the International Classroom Program.
For more information on becoming a host, contact Mary Lynne Vickers, host development chair, at (859) 361-9603 or Judy Phillips at (859) 277-2224.