UTRGV faculty open homes to international students during holidays

UTRGV international graduate students Mohan Dash, Asha Barua, lecturer Amy Frazier, Tamanna Zakia and Imran Noor talk around the kitchen island Saturday as they prepare the last parts of the Christmas Day meal together for a gathering at Frazier's Brownsville home.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Amy Frazier, a University of Texas Rio Grande Valley faculty member in Brownsville, hosted four international students on Christmas Day as part of the university’s International Holiday Exchange Program.

International graduate students Tamanna Zakia and Asha Barua, both from Bangladesh, laugh as they chat over coffee Saturday during a Christmas Day celebration at the Brownsville home of UTRGV lecturer Amy Frazier.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

It was her first time to participate in the program, which was created in 2020 as an antidote to holiday homesickness among students from other countries. Frazier, who teaches in UTRGV’s Department of Writing and Language Studies, hosted four graduate students from Bangladesh, two who live in Edinburg and two who live in Brownsville.

Frazier said in an interview earlier in the week that was the students’ first American-style Christmas and that she planned to make it very special for them. That was to include a turkey with scratch-made stuffing and “all the fixings,” with friends and neighbors bringing brisket, ham and homemade desserts for the occasion.

On Christmas Eve she took the students to a bilingual Midnight Mass at Mary, Mother of the Church, where Frazier gave the Second Reading as a lector, and then offered them eggnog and fruitcake, a post-Midnight Mass tradition in her family. Her home was fully decked out in holiday cheer, with a Christmas tree, Nativity scene, wreaths and garlands.

Frazier said she decided to sign up for the program this year in part to dispel some of the isolation students and everyone else have endured during the pandemic, to give students a taste of celebrating Christmas in the United States, and to give them a warm, welcoming place to be on a special day when they’re so far away from their homes and families.

“I want to spread a little bit of holiday cheer because I can,” she said. “I think it’s an excellent idea and program or initiative, whoever came up with the idea.”

Nora Cruz Dole, UTRGV associate director of the International Admissions and Student Services, which administers the program, said her office each year sends out surveys to the university’s international students to find out how many are interested in taking part. The office then sends surveys to faculty and staff to see who either wants to sponsor a meal or host students at their homes during the holiday break, she said.

The next step is to match students to sponsors/hosts, Cruz Dole said, adding that an average of 30 students and 10 to 12 faculty and staff members take part each year. Most of the university’s international students who signed up this year are from Bangladesh, Ghana, Iran and Mexico, she said. In the event more students sign up than there are staff or faculty to host or sponsor them, the office reaches out to a local church, Cruz Dole said.

“I try to not leave anyone out,” she said. “This year I had enough, so we’re good.”

Frazier said she was looking forward to a “fascinating cultural experience” and was already looking ahead to a year from now.

“I would like to do it again next year,” she said.