Studying in a foreign country can be a culture shock for international students as they adapt to a new culture. What can be even more difficult is missing their families and the comforts of home.
That is why DePaul started the MEAL with DePaul program. It offers students the opportunity to experience a new culture by joining a DePaul faculty or staff member’s family for a meal.
The acronym MEAL stands for Meet, Eat and American Life, and that is just what the program delivers. It helps international students gain a better understanding of American families and culture, and gives host families a way to learn more about DePaul’s global community over a shared meal.
Krishna Kethana Samineni, known as Sam, a finance graduate student from India, participated in the program the first time in the winter of 2015 and a second time in February. Sam, who had never left the southern part of India until she decided to move to Chicago to attend DePaul’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, originally signed up for the program to see what she needed to wear in winter.
“This was the first time I left home,” says Sam. “It was a new experience and I was clueless about what was happening around me. I thought that by going to a professor's house, I would learn about Chicago, what clothes I should wear, what precautions I need to take and what food I should try.”
In February, Sam went to Associate Professor of Management Alyssa Westring’s house for dinner with Westring and her family. This is Westring’s third year of hosting international students for the MEAL with DePaul program. Westring and her husband served classic American comfort food while their two young children entertained the students with ping pong, temporary stick-on tattoos and dance performances. Her children even tried speaking Chinese with the students from China.
“Children are great ice breakers,” says Westring. “There are no social expectations on how you behave around toddlers—anybody can get along. It buffered any awkwardness, and the students really opened up.”
Dinner conversations ranged from talking about where each of the students came from and their traditional foods to the differences between their home and Chicago. Westring asked questions about their experiences in Chicago and whether they have been to a baseball game or have tried deep-dish pizza.
“The night exemplified MEAL—Meet, Eat and American Life—but it was our version of American life where we like to have fun as a family,” says Westring. “Fun is something that is really important to me and my family. We like to be silly and talk about funny things and experiences. Humor is a bridge that bonds us across cultures.”
MEAL with DePaul Helps Professors and Students Connect
Westring acknowledges that in other countries, there is a more formal relationship between professors and students, and students are less encouraged to ask questions or speak up in class. In the U.S., Westring says that professors are more likely to engage in conversations with students. At DePaul, professors want to make students feel comfortable so that they will participate in class and ask for support if they need it.
“I hope that the students got out of the night a sense that DePaul faculty care about them and their experiences,” says Westring. “And I hope they know that their time in Chicago can be more of an experience where they feel at home instead of feeling isolated and far from the comforts of what they are used to.”
Sam had a great time at Westring’s house. She enjoyed the food and conversation and getting to meet other international students. But playing with the children made her feel most at home.
“MEALS with DePaul is important because we get to know what kind of culture Americans follow, the foods that they eat, how they decorate their houses, what rituals they follow, and what their daily routine is like,” says Sam. “I can learn about their culture and how Americans are and, in the future, if I stay in this country, I will have a first-hand experience with their cultural expectations. It was a great way of learning how American families are.”
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find out more about the MEAL with DePaul program.
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