“‘Welcome’—in Any Language,” Ensign, Oct. 1991, 74
A group of Church members in Logan, Utah, far from centers of international diplomacy or trade, have been making friends with people from many countries through a program sponsored by Utah State University.
The program offers volunteers in the community—members of civic organizations and several different churches—the opportunity to host some of the approximately one thousand foreign students on the university campus. The university’s foreign students, representing some ninety countries, are invited to participate at the beginning of each quarter. There are usually several hundred of them involved.
The program is designed to give students the opportunity to learn more about the culture of their host country and to find new friends while they are far from home. At the same time, they share some of their native culture with their American hosts. In preparation for the experience, the university provides host families with information about their student’s home country.
“My feeling is that our community needs this as much as the students,” says Afton Tew, who oversees the university’s International Students Organization. She says members of several local churches participate in proportion to their numbers, but because of the preponderance of Latter-day Saints in the community, Church members’ participation helps keep the program functioning well.
The program “gives us a real opportunity to show our love and concern for these guests in our community,” says one LDS participant.
Education is one of the objectives as students go into the homes of their hosts, or as host families help students master shopping and other tasks that may intimidate them in a new culture. For the host families, the emphasis is on service. No proselyting is permitted.
Foreign students frequently share elements of their culture with host groups. “We do many, many programs for Relief Society, Young Men and Young Women, and Scout troops,” says Sister Tew, a member of the North Logan Tenth Ward.
Host groups have found that the foreign students seem to enjoy it when Americans share elements of their culture as well. In 1989, for example, the Logan Utah Central Stake had the opportunity to plan a Christmas party for the students. The party focused on American Christmas traditions. It also included square dancing, with alternative activities for those whose cultures do not permit dancing. Told to expect 90 people to attend, those who planned the event nevertheless hoped for 150. More than 250 actually attended.
Local Church leaders are encouraging Latter-day Saint participation in the USU program. On a visit to Logan, President Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, heard of member involvement with the foreign students and commended those who were making friends with potential future leaders of other countries. Since then, each stake in the area has provided representatives to coordinate participation in the program.—Neda Gyllenskog, Logan, Utah