Because of intense academic pressure, it is really challenging to find ways to build community within international students’ busy schedules.  Here’s some things we’ve tried to incorporate to build community.

1) Food! Everyone loves food and having international-friendly food really builds community.  For snacks, serve pita and hummus rather than chips and dip. Chicken is a favorite with most cultures and fresh fruit is a winner every single time. And always, always have vegetarian options. We avoid pork altogether at events (no pepperoni pizza) to continue to say “welcome” to our Muslim friends.

2) Cook together. Even better…take them to an international grocery to get the ingredients, and then cook together!   It’s amazing what enjoying their cooking creations does to build warmth in community.

Written by Karen Keyser   Facebook

Written by Karen Keyser


3) Games.  Keep an atmosphere of laughter and warmth when it comes to playing games.  Try to have games that are not too language or culturally dependent.  Our group enjoys Gestures, Catch Phrase, and Murder, as well as simple card games like Uno and Spoons.

4) Culture Nights. Choose a culture and have a night where they cook, share their cultures’ music and dance and art, and share a testimony from someone in that culture. 

5) Sports—and ping pong!  Internationals often love sports, especially football (soccer)!  In our group, Haydee from the Philippines invites students to play ping ping on Saturday afternoons. She always has a great group of busy graduate students who show up for her “Ping Pong gang.”  

6) Holiday parties.  Internationals enjoy learning about American culture, so including them in Superbowl parties, Christmas celebrations, and Easter egg dying can be a lot of fun and help students to feel connected to our culture. 

7) Dance!  We’ve had a ton of fun teaching internationals square dancing and line dancing with a professional caller.  Spontaneous cultural dances often break out at other events, and there’s nothing like fun dancing to build community.

8) Grocery shopping.  One of my volunteers said that the best thing she ever did to connect with her busy student was regular grocery shopping.  The student and volunteer could visit while they did something that the student always wanted to make time to do.

9) Sightseeing together.  Taking advantage of academic breaks & weekends to do touristy things together creates special community memories. We’ve enjoyed DC tours, corn maizes, aquariums, and art galleries with our international friends. 

10) Road Trip!  My all-time favorite way to build community with internationals is at a retreat.  Having extended time to cook together, hike, do puzzles, chat into the night, answer questions, share testimonies, and sing under the stars does wonders for building a loving community.

AuthorBlane Young
Helens baptism.jpg

How does a person go from watching a video to getting baptized? Great question!

If you're looking for a resource to engage with seekers and new believers, I'd recommend Campus Alpha Course.  Filmed in London, this  8 -week video course helps students explore Christianity in a relaxed setting.   Topics include  Who is Jesus? Why and How Can Study the Bible?  What about the Church? and more.  Then students discuss the topic of the week in a small group where no question or opinion is “off limits.”  The Alpha course always includes a “Holy Spirit” weekend retreat, as well.  The Alpha course has been running in over 169 countries as a way to help seekers to find Christ.

Written by Karen Keyser

Written by Karen Keyser

In Chi Alpha, we have been running a Campus Alpha course at both Georgetown University and Nova Community College each Spring semester for the past several years.  We start with snacks and chatting, then watch the 30 minute video segment, and then divide into 2-4 student-led small groups to discuss the videos.  Many of the students are international students who have never understood Christianity before.

Helen has an Ethiopian background, but has grown up in the United States.  She has been involved in alcohol and drugs since she was a teenager. At age 24,  her world crumbled, and she found herself in a drug detox center.   Upon leaving the center, Helen realized that she needed to get her life straightened out.  She wanted to get back into Nova Community College and surround herself with better influences.  So she joined Alpha right before our Alpha retreat.  At the retreat she learned about the Holy Spirit and his power to transform lives.  

Another student, named Yami, explained to Helen from the Bible about being born again, and Helen was ready to pray a salvation prayer right away.  Afterwards she announced to the group:  “I prayed that prayer.  I’m not sure how you say it, but I’ve been adopted!”   A few weeks later Helen was baptized at our church.

At her baptism she said, “Before Jesus, I had a drug and alcohol problem. Now after, Jesus has set me free!”  Though she joined Alpha mid-semester, God used this resource to bring spiritual freedom to her life!  

Info on Campus Alpha

AuthorBlane Young

Feeling a bit discouraged about the “results” of my work with international students, I had a walk and talk with my dad one Christmas break several years ago.  My dad had been a pastor and missionary for 35 years, and I appreciated his perspective.  He held up an imaginary seed between his fingers and said, “Karen, remember the life is in the seed.”  That’s it.  We plant the spiritual seed, someone else may water it, but God makes it grow. There is life within the seed!  

"Karen, remember the life is in the seed." 

Written by Karen Keyser

Written by Karen Keyser

Yes, the gospel has a life of its own.  My job is simply to keep planting this life-giving seed.  If I keep faithfully doing that, some receptive soil will receive the seed, and God will do the miracle of growth.

Joy had begun to open her heart to the seed of the gospel back in China.  When she arrived at Georgetown as a grad student I matched her with an American Friend partner from a local church, and Joy started coming to our events.  

At the end of her first Chi Alpha worship service on campus, she said to me with tears in her eyes, “I've never felt God like this before!” The seed was being watered.  

Then Joy went with us to our Mosaic international student conference.   During an elective class she responded fully to God’s love, receiving his forgiveness and forgiving others who had hurt her.  She said it felt like she could “breathe again!”  The seedling was sprouting.  A few months later, I had the privilege of baptizing her right in the middle of campus after a Chi Alpha service.

And then Joy graduated, got a job in Nebraska, and moved away.  Would the young seedling grow? Why yes!.  She immediately got involved in a church and Bible study there.  

Yesterday, I was looking at Facebook updates and noticed Joy’s update, “So grateful for every blessing in my life, for great friends, for God’s faithfulness and unfailing love!!!”  We planted the seed that had spiritual life within it into fertile soil.  And God’s love has made it grow.  It is such a privilege to watch His beautiful garden grow in the lives of students from around the world.  

Have faith that there is life within the seed.

(Note - We've changed the name of the student in this story) 

AuthorBlane Young