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UTRGV spreads holiday cheer to international students with exchange program

International student Samuel Ogunwale, from Nigeria, is studying biology at UTRGV

International student Samuel Ogunwale, from Nigeria, is studying biology at UTRGV. Because a long trip home isn’t possible right now, Ogunwale will participate in the university’s inaugural holiday exchange program, where international students who cannot go home get to spend the holidays with a UTRGV faculty or staff member and their family. (UTRGV photo by Paul Chouy)

By Jennifer L. Berghom

EDINBURG, TEXAS, DEC. 25, 2015 — Samuel Ogunwale, a sophomore majoring in biology at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, says winter holiday traditions in his home country of Nigeria are similar to those of the United States.

During the holiday, families come together and celebrate, open presents and share food, maybe even watch some football (soccer) on TV.

This year, however, instead of spending the holidays with his family, Ogunwale will get to experience how Christmas is celebrated on the other side of the Atlantic.

Ogunwale is one of several students who have expressed interest in participating in UTRGV’s inaugural holiday exchange program, where international students who cannot travel home during the winter break get to spend the holidays with UTRGV faculty and staff and their families.

“I had friends who did it last year and they said they got to meet people, they got to understand what it’s like to be away, with a different family, from a different culture,” he said.

Although it would be nice to spend time with his family, Ogunwale said, he is looking forward to experiencing his first American Christmas. Plus, he can keep in touch with his friends and family back home via Skype and other online communications.

“Electronics is a Godsend,” he said.

There are more than 1,000 international students who attend The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, some hailing from as far as India and China, so traveling home for the holidays can be way too expensive.

To ease homesickness and bring holiday cheer, UTRGV’s Office of International Admissions and Student Services is pairing international students who are staying in the Valley during the winter break with faculty and staff who are staying home for the holidays, to spend three days — Dec. 24, 25, and 26 — with them.

The pairing is voluntary and allows the students to experience firsthand the traditions followed by their host families, said Samantha Lopez, UTRGV’s director of International Admissions and Student Services and Global Engagement

“The mission of International Admissions and Student Services is to provide top-quality support services to our UTRGV international student population,” she said. “At the same time, we want for our international students to experience how this season is celebrated in this part of the world. This is also the perfect occasion to share their culture and customs with our UTRGV family.”

Lopez said her office first sent out surveys to students to see who would like to participate. Then, the office reached out to faculty and staff to see who would be interested in hosting students. The office then matched students with families based on preferences and other information they provided on the survey.

“We make a good effort to best match the students with our UTRGV faculty and staff,” she said.

To learn more about the Office of International Admissions and Student Services, visit www.utrgv.edu or call (956) 665-2922 or (956) 882-7092.

MEDIA CONTACTS

Marci.Caltabiano@UTRGV.edu
UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications
956-665-2742

Jennifer.McGehee@UTRGV.edu UTRGV Director of Public Relations
956-882-5105