One Tiffin University family decided to open their home to an international student through the school's Adopt a Dragon program.
The program, established by the International Student Services Office, was designed to unite TU international students with Tiffin families.
TU has nearly 200 international students from 30 countries enrolled in its undergraduate and graduate programs.
"International students who apply for this program are eager to acquire more knowledge about Ohio and American culture," said Rachel Crooks, director of international student advising at TU. "Most international students never get a chance to step foot inside an American household during their stay here."
"The goal of the program is to promote diversity and cultural awareness throughout the community," said Jamie Marinis, director of first-year programs and student outreach at TU. "Adopt a Dragon not only offers international students the chance to learn about American culture and traditions but also allows members of the Tiffin community to learn about and appreciate diversity while experiencing different cultures and customs directly."
Jamie and her husband, Jeremy Marinis, who serves as vice president for enrollment management at TU, have been serving as hosts for four students from Saudi Arabia.
One student who spent time with the Marinis family was Omar Alfehri. He said he has been in the United States for a year.
"I like to travel and try new things because I believe that helps me to learn a lot of different things from other people, understand different cultures and get more knowledge," Omar said.
He said he decided to take part in this program to be close to an American family to see how they live and to learn more about American traditions.
"I wanted to meet new people and to share more things with them," Omar said. "Also, I wanted to get involved in any activity because there are so many things to do in this town."
Jamie Marinis taught a course last spring that consisted of international students, a population with whom she said she previously had little interaction.
Anyone in the community may take part in the Adopt a Dragon program, Crooks said.
"It is not a huge commitment. It just involves including a student in a person's normal life," Crooks said.
Program information and the application for hosts can be found at www.tiffin.edu/international/events/adopt.
Expectations for the program are to attend an orientation for the program, return calls and emails from the student, try to meet with the student once a month and introduce students to American culture.
Participants are to not be a taxi service for the student, are not required to have a student stay with them and are not required to provide money for the student.
"Even though I was the teacher, I definitely learned and benefited in so many ways from this course," Jamie Marinis said. "I truly valued my time spent with these students in class and knew immediately I wanted the opportunity to get to know these students outside of the classroom."
She said she and her family welcomed the students into their home to share a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
"As we ate our traditional Thanksgiving meal and conversed, we talked about what Thanksgiving means to us and the significance it has on American culture," she said. "In turn, our adopted students shared some cherished traditions from their own culture."
Omar said his favorite part of the experience was having a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner.
"It was a good experience," he said.
The program teaches students to embrace who they are and where they come from, Jamie Marinis said.
"We all have so much to learn from one another, we shouldn't be afraid to share what makes each of us unique," she said. "If someone looks or sounds different, take the chance to get to know him or her. I guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised by what you learn about others, as well as yourself in the process."
Omar said he would tell other students the program offers a good chance to participate in many things while they live in Tiffin.
"The program will help us to try the American lifestyle and adapt in the western culture (more) easily, which makes students more open-minded and happy," Omar said.