Studying abroad is always an exciting experience, but there is also some apprehension because it is a long period of time for most to be separated from family, Alex Gheysens, a student from Belgium, said.
At Wartburg there are about 175 students from outside the United States who have chosen to make Wartburg – and Waverly – their home for four years.
Gheysens is no stranger when it comes to studying abroad.
He studied in the United States during his senior year of high school.
“Getting distance and space away from your own home makes you think about everything,” Gheysens said.
“Being away helped me get closer to my own family.”
In Belgium, a college education costs about $1,300. Gheysens believes that the price of college in Belgium has a downside because those schools don’t have the community feeling of togetherness that Wartburg offers.
Gheysens added that colleges in Belgium don’t have any extracurricular activities, clubs or sports. They also do not have any on campus housing for students, who just go to college for classes and return home, he said.
“I feel like there is more to college than just academics and I feel like here you get the whole well-rounded package,” Gheysens said.
Part of that package for international students is the opportunity to be paired with a friendship family.
Katie Tanner, interim director of international student programs, said a friendship family is essentially a host family that is around to help students feel more comfortable in a new environment.
Tanner added the family is not expected to host the student by providing housing or financially supporting them.
They are to be part of the student’s support network here.
Students and families that participate in the program have found it to be a rewarding experience.
“I thought that it would be a great way for me to give back and help out potential international students who may need someone to talk to at times–especially over breaks and holidays,” Josh Peterson, Wartburg’s graphic designer and host to Gheysens, said.
“I’ve been abroad for an extended period of time and I know how isolating it can be without having a support group with you.”
Peterson said he sees Gheysens quite often because Gheysens works at the information desk. They also watch “Survivor” together every Wednesday.
Breaks can be particularly challenging for international students. They often cannot go home for holidays and summer vacations.
Tawanda Murinda, now a fourth year, went home to Zimbabwe for the first time in three years at Wartburg last Christmas.
“At first it was hard trying to settle back home after having been gone for so long. Everyone seemed to have moved on with their lives and I didn’t fit into their daily routine,” Murinda said. “I soon fit in after a few days of being back. I enjoyed having a ‘normal’ Christmas for a change with rain, green plants and sunshine.”
Gheysens has also had the opportunity to travel home during his time at Wartburg. He went home for summer break.
He said it was strange at first because he had changed a lot during the year and so had his friends and family.
By the end of the summer he was back in routine and said it was difficult for him to return to Wartburg because he knew he wasn’t going to see his family until Christmas break.
This will be the first time in three years Gheysens will get to return to Belgium for Christmas and reconnect with family.