By Leah Jones, Features Editor
New environments, new languages, new foods, new cultures, and new customs compound the already stressful transition from high school into college for international students. However, through International Students Incorporated (ISI), international students at the University of Missouri–St. Louis can meet, chat, and form a community with other international students and local St. Louisans over the manna of many college students’ existence: free food.
ISI held one of its free lunches in the Fireside Lounge of the Millennium Student Center (MSC) on January 25. The group works under the umbrella of the Catholic Newman Center on campus, according to Mort Whitman, the Campus Minister for ISI. The organization partners with local churches in order to connect international students at UMSL, Maryville University, Lindenwood University, Washington University, and St. Louis University with food and community. “We basically are what they call a Christian service organization,” Whitman said. “We are here to serve international students and help them out.”
The First Baptist Church of Ferguson supplied the money for the free Subway sandwiches in the Fireside Lounge on Wednesday, but other local churches have paid for the food or supplied it themselves in the past depending on the location of the event. Patryk Golinski, freshman, computer science, and UMSL swimmer from Poland, said that he tries to attend all of the free lunches. “It’s very nice because there is a lot of people from other countries,” he said. “You can talk about just anything. … There is a very nice community here.”
“It’s an opportunity where they can communicate with each other and so on, but then also if they have to rush, if they have to go to class and stuff like that, it’s something that they are able to grab so that they don’t miss lunch,” said Whitman.
Though ISI supplies students with food, they also offer other services to international students, including trips around the city, conferences, and Bible study for interested students. Through its program, Professional Partners, ISI also matches students with local St. Louisans who work in their fields of study. “We match them and they get invited into the person’s business place to see how [they do] things, dealing with business ethics and so on, which you don’t normally get elsewhere,” Whitman said.
Whitman also serves as a mentor to several of the students, guiding them in areas as diverse as helping students choose their majors, find living arrangements, and navigate through more dire circumstances as well. “I am a trained hospital chaplain, and I went through my CPE [Clinical Pastoral Education] here in St. Louis. I’m trained in interventions, too. I come as a package. And it’s very important. Students can go through terrible problems,” Whitman said. “When crises come in a student’s life who is far away from home [and] has no family here, it is devastating.”
Whitman cited several instances in which international students dealt with crises, including a story in which a man was killed by a drunk driver, leaving his family without his support. ISI helped the family. “It’s very multifaceted in that way. We try to provide as much intervention as possible,” Whitman said.
ISI also provides counseling services for international students, but Whitman hopes that the university will do more for students. Though UMSL provides international students with services through the International House on campus, Whitman says that it works more specifically with students who are engaged in leadership training activities, and he would like to see a more general space for international students. He said of the Fireside Lounge, “I kind of consider this is like the campus living room. It’s just like somebody’s home, and to offer that to them, it would be a great thing if we just had a place where students could go [and] use their own language, … to be able to be able to just chat in their own tongue, that would be a great thing,” he said.
ISI started on UMSL’s campus in 2009, but the organization formed in 1953 after the Korean War. Whitman said that at that time there were more than 37,000 international students living in the United States, and that number has since grown to over a million, with 8,000 living in St. Louis alone. ISI needed to overcome some hurdles to serve food on UMSL’s campus though. The campus food contract with Sodexo prohibits people from bringing food onto UMSL’s campus, even for community events such as this one, but Whitman said that he came up with an arrangement with Sodexo to use the Subway in the Nosh, since they are on the campus.
“I got to be friends with the people who run the Subway here. They’re from Afghanistan. … We’ve built a very good relationship with them … and [we have] a good relationship with Sodexo because we try to be cooperative,” Whitman said.
Since the English Language School at which ISI holds its other lunches is not a part of UMSL’s campus, local churches often bring other food to those events.
Though many of the students who flocked to the free subway sandwiches in the Fireside Lounge on Wednesday had to leave for athletic practices and classes, most of them dropped by to thank Whitman as they left, shaking his hand and often sharing a hug. Though Whitman hopes for more for International Students on UMSL’s campus, students expressed gratitude for the services that ISI can offer. “Everyone is so welcome here,” said Golinksi. “And of course there is free food; athletes are always hungry.”
ISI will hold its next free lunch for international students at the English Language School behind UMSL’s Music Building on February 9.
For more information on ISI, visit http://www.isionline.org/
For more information on the First Baptist Church of Ferguson, visit http://fbcferguson.org/