December 17, 2018
This past Sunday, Wheaton’s international students came together in the home of Wheaton College President Dr. Philip Ryken for the International Student Program Office’s annual Christmas Party.
For most Wheaton students, the end of fall semester is alive with well-loved holiday festivities and eager anticipation for Christmas break. For international students, though, the season can be a tough reminder they’re in a country far from their own– especially for those who can’t travel home for the holidays.
That’s why, every year, the International Student Programs office partners with Wheaton College President Dr. Philip Ryken, to host a Christmas party. In the Ryken family home, located just steps away from campus, Wheaton’s F1 visa students come together to celebrate holiday traditions, such as a White Elephant gift exchange, Christmas cookie decorating and games of “Guess the Christmas carol.”
“A lot of international students don’t go home for Christmas break, so it’s meaningful to bring some sense of home to them in their new home at Wheaton,” said ISP Director Jerry Woehr.
This year’s Christmas party took place on Sunday, December 16. Axis, a student-led group that supports, encourages and challenges international students in their engagement with the community, also helped to sponsor the event. Alongside Woehr, the Axis Cabinet planned interactive, low-key activities to help students relax before entering finals week.
The Christmas Party is always a time of fun and laughter, according to Woehr. At the end of last year’s White Elephant gift exchange, Ryken got stuck with an entire box filled with copies of his own book. “He ended up autographing them all and giving them back to everyone,” Woehr recalled. “He just laughed it off, and we all got a good memory.”
Ryken first proposed the idea of hosting a Christmas party to the ISP Office a few years ago when he wanted to find a way to build personal connections with Wheaton’s international student community.
When asked about the significance of Ryken’s participation in the event, Woehr explained that for many international students, different cultural values are attached to meeting with people in positions of authority. In the States, cultural emphasis is placed on equality regardless of position. But in many other cultures, there is special value in having a person in authority take time to connect on a personal level. “It’s another way for international students to experience belonging,” Woehr said.
For F1 visa students like Hye Rim Ryu, president of Axis, President Ryken’s presence at the party brings a sense of acceptance. “President Ryken is so busy this season,” Ryu said. “And he has chosen to set apart this time to spend with the international community. It shows us that we are as important to Wheaton as the other groups on campus.”
Ultimately, ISP and Axis hope events like the Christmas party empower international students to interact with the community around them.
“We hope that by offering support, we can encourage international students to engage with all of the Wheaton community, as well as encourage the community to engage back with us,” Woehr said. “We really just want to help these students belong and encounter the full Wheaton experience while they’re here.”—Lyndi Tsering