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IA Program Offers Friendship and Cultural Education

International students get an introduction to American life, and its holidays

O’Connell House was the site of the International Assistants Program Thanksgiving dinner. (Photo by Frank Curran)

By Melissa Beecher | Chronicle Staff

Published: Dec. 1, 2011

For the past 31 years, the International Assistants Program has established meaningful friendships between international and American students at Boston College.

One way that bond is formed is with food – lots of food.

Four turkeys, mountains of mashed potatoes, stuffing and a dozen pies were cooked from scratch by the International Assistants last month to introduce more than 100 foreign students to the tradition of Thanksgiving. The group prepares events for each of the holidays, said Office of International Students and Scholars Director Adrienne Nussbaum, but none as elaborate or appreciated as the Thanksgiving feast, which this year took place Nov. 13 in O’Connell House.

“The purpose of this program is to match incoming freshmen one-on-one with a current BC student, who acts as a peer advisor during their first year here. The program is unique to BC and the International Assistants help the international students navigate American culture and introduce them to cultural experiences here in the US, which can be intimidating,” said Nussbaum.

In addition to Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, the International Assistants have organized visits to Florida, ski trips in New Hampshire and Vermont, outings at restaurants in and around Boston, and various service projects. More recently, the group held a pumpkin carving party for Halloween and will be putting on a holiday social this month.

“The holiday tradition that is probably most loved is Thanksgiving, because the international students truly appreciate the effort in making a meal of this size,” said Nussbaum.

International students, like Edith Delaney from Ireland, made it a point to thank the Office of International Students and Scholars for the event.

“I was overcome by the effort which your department and the IA team went to to prepare such a feast,” Delaney wrote. “It really was a lovely occasion and so very thoughtful of you all.”

Nussbaum explained that the personal touch is the hallmark of the program. Through that one-on-one contact with an established BC student, both the international and BC students feel more connected, Nussbaum said.

“I think it’s important to emphasize that a program like this doesn’t exist at other schools. This is unique to Boston College and — I am not overstating this — it changes lives. The relationships that are formed in this program are for life, and we’ve seen that time and time again.

“Through International Assistants, students are exposed to different cultures and find their niche here through one another,” said Nussbaum.

For more information, visit the International Assistants Program website. A Flickr slideshow is also available of the Thanksgiving here.