Food, family, and fellowship intertwined with the spirit of the holiday season.

It's a typical scenario for many American families throughout the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season.

For many international college students, who may be overwhelmed with homesickness during their college years, it may be a challenging time of year.

Joyce Hemingway of Hindsboro has hosted international students through the Paris, Ill., International Thanksgiving Fellowship organization for 15 years. The group, which has existed for 56 years, is an affiliate of the National Council of International Visitors.

"The major thing we do is bring students from Chicago down to share the Thanksgiving holidays with us," she said. "It's a whirlwind weekend" with all the activities in a short time period.

While every year is different, she said they typically take them to see an Amish home, shopping, and to church on Sunday.

Hemingway, who lives on a farm, said a year ago it was a really wet year when the students arrived for the holiday. They were able to ride the combine and witness the harvest.

This year she said she hosted a Chinese couple and her son took the young man to his house to play table tennis, while she took the young lady shopping. This was followed by a trip to Amish country visiting an Amish home and enjoying a meal there.

The young couple from this year were impressed with the openness of the land. She said they live in a high-rise apartment building and kept saying how "big" it is here.

The girl's dad had farmed in China so she was very interested in the crops grown in Illinois and the equipment used.

"They all speak English pretty well," Hemingway said. "She spoke very well but really fast. She was just delightful."

She also thought Hemingway had so many pretty things, as in decorations. "I have a lot of things from outdoors," said Hemingway. Things back home in China for her are plain, decoration-wise, said the host.

"I just got so interested in learning about other countries and people from other countries. I have a real inquisitive mind," she said. "I've really enjoyed this. That's the only way we can understand them, when we have them in our homes. They are friendly and they love to see our homes."

Hemingway said the students almost always come back in the spring, and she is glad for them to be able to see the difference in the seasons.

Relationships are formed and are lifelong. Ten years ago she hosted a man from Japan, and he just recently returned for a visit and brought back his 10-year-old daughter.

"Most of them are just here on a visa to study," she said. "They are typically only here one to two years."

She did know a gal who was interested in staying in the states after receiving her education, but she said most of the students want to go back to their native lands to be with their families.

Hemingway serves on the board of the Paris International Thanksgiving Fellowship that consists of 12 area people. Years ago, she said, the group would have 40 or more host families, but throughout the years, it has dwindled to around 20.

She attributed the change to the fact that more families are traveling and/or are also hosting larger groups as their kids and grandkids are returning home for the holidays.

A fellow board member had an interesting experience with their students that Hemingway shared. They had taken the students to an Amish auction, and a man kept trying to give them a number. When the board member explained the concept of an auction - having a number and raising your hand merits a purchase - they were amazed.

Hemingway and her husband first became involved with international students in 1970 when the Arcola ag program was looking for someone to host a 20-year-old from Denmark.

They formed an excellent relationship with the young man, and she and her daughter have now visited him in Denmark six times.

She said her husband was heavily involved in this until he died seven years ago.

"I am more comfortable hosting a couple now. If I am not available, they can talk to each other," Hemingway said.

She said the organization likes for host families to at least have one extra bedroom. If anyone is interested in hosting an international student through this program, they can call Hemingway at 346-2237.

Families host

students via EIU

International students at Eastern Illinois University have also had host families through Donna Satterfield, Tim and Laura Boyce, and Jamie and Aimee Romack, all of Charleston, to name just a few.

These families take the students into their homes and offer them food, a place to hang out or stay, or they accompany them on trips or activities to give them a taste of life in central Illinois. Also, in a sense they serve as surrogate parents.

For Satterfield, she and her husband, the late John Satterfield, began helping in 1980 by giving the students from Eastern Illinois University rides from the bus station in Mattoon to Charleston or from the Coles County Memorial Airport to the university, she said. The students had no form of transportation, and she offered to help.

The Satterfields' first international student was from Korea.

"We would offer them food and a place to stay," she said. "My husband was also massively involved. He would buy bikes and fix them up and sell them to them."

She said if the students ever had a flat tire or a maintenance problem they would come to her husband for help.

The long-term Charleston resident said her husband had a stroke when he was 42 and suffered from a lot of heart problems, and this was a way for him to stay occupied.

"My John was a very outgoing person, never met a stranger," she said.

When Mr. Satterfield died, they had flags from more than 25 countries representing the nationalities of all the students they have hosted in the past 30 years. He died in 2008.

Mr. Satterfield received the first Eullae Landerson International Friendship Award granted by the Eastern Illinois University International Program for Volunteers in 2005, she said.

She is unsure of the number of international students they have hosted because it is such a high number.

One of the neatest aspects of hosting students from other countries are the friendships and relationships that develop, Satterfield said.

"Some of them became like our children. They got to know our family. In fact, my family actually got more from them. They learned so much from those people and their cultures."

Remembering a situation from years ago, Satterfield laughed and said they were always willing to share their cultures and knowledge of how things were done in their country. A student shared with her a remedy for a back ache she was having. She said, "I didn't want to hurt his feelings, but it just wasn't working."

She recounted a story involving her young grandson Randy with one of their students from Nigeria. The college student had tribal marks cut into his face, and the young lad said to his grandmother, "‘Oh Grandma, he's an Indian.'" And the college boy said, "‘No, no I am from Nigeria.'" And then little Randy touched the visiting student's hair and said, "‘Oh he's wearing a wig.'" The Nigerian replied, "‘What's a wig?'"

She had to explain the cultural differences to Randy, and what a wig was and how it was used to the visiting student.

Stories like this were endless for the Satterfields.

Another was about a man who was here and his wife was pregnant back home, and he was wanting to reach out to her. The Satterfields let him use their phone and paid the bill for him. "He needed that," she said. Having been blessed with this ministry, she said, all the glory goes to God.

"That is just one of the many wonderful experiences we've had. It is such a rewarding volunteer thing," Satterfield said. "Those who don't do it for whatever reason really miss out."

Because they became like family with their students, they have traveled overseas to Seoul, Korea, to visit a former student. They also attempted to visit a former student who was becoming a doctor in Greece several years ago but were denied entry because she said officials were worried about happenings in surrounding countries. They traveled as far as Sicily, Italy, and were told they couldn't go any farther.

Satterfield is a host family for Vaskar Nepal, of Nepal, a current EIU international student. He said, "Donna is such a nice person. It feels good to talk to her." He said she is very inspiring and motherly. He said if he doesn't like what's going on at his apartment, he can go to her house and talk to her to relieve stress.

Aimee Romack and Tim Boyce, both of Charleston, and their families also help international students through the EIU International Office and Scholars. Romack began working as office manager more than a year ago in this department.

She decided to host two girls from South Korea. She and her family - husband, Jamiee, daughter, Hailee, 9, and stepson Kaiden, 8 - have the girls over for meals and have taken them shopping in Terre Haute, Ind. They have taken them to Cheeseburgers in Paradise and to a UFC fight, she said. Another time they had a campfire and introduced the college girls to the idea of a s'more.

Tim Boyce, who is pastor of the University Baptist Church in Charleston, and his family - including wife Laura, their twin daughters, Hannah and Kathryn, 11, and Arwen, 5 - have welcomed the students into their home and family.

"We trust them as if they were family and make them feel welcome," he said.

International student Pryia Dmello, of India, said it's nice to have a family in town. She enjoys spending time at the Boyce home and loves their children.

Over the holidays, Dmello will be traveling to Chicago to be with her husband. She only has one course left to complete her MBA at EIU. After that she said they will probably work for a few years in the states before returning to India.

College students typically visit the Boyce home on Friday nights. On Dec. 12, approximately 25 college students including eight or nine international students gathered at the Boyce home for breakfast foods.

The host families often assume the role of the parent, sometimes joining the international students as they do things like shop for a graduation dress.

"We do anything their parents would do with them as much as possible. We cook together and spend as much time with them that they have. They are often spending their time studying," Boyce said.

He said he will help the students cook foods that are native to their homeland. He said often they miss the home-cooked meals so he will figure out how to make it and they'll cook it together.

One interesting story Boyce shared from this year was a time when he took a Muslim student to a livestock auction to buy a goat. He said it is tradition back home that when a child is born a goat is slaughtered. The student's son was born the week before Thanksgiving, Boyce said.

Contact James at or 238-6866.


(1) comment

Zoomi Honey
Zoomi Honey

Nice to know this.Really a nice job.God bless these people who are making comfort possible for those who are not from their country but their guests.They are one of the few people who have sketched awesome picture of humanity.In the same year i might be awarded an American undergraduate scholarship if my luck does not doges me,then surely i will like to meet these people from my host country and spend some beautiful and friendly moments and chat with them.May God bless these kind hearts !!!

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