Saturday, April 1
Student Union Ballroom
The International Dinner and Talent Show is the biggest international event on campus. It showcases student talent—dancers, singers, drummers, and more!—from around the world.
Cost to Attend
There is a $12 charge to attend this event. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by the Office of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) in UC305.
“Even though we look different and speak different languages and eat different foods, we’re all interconnected. We have a relationship that bridges the cultural divide...”
By Jayna Morris
Assistant Editor, NKU Magazine
Bijaya Baniya brought what he could that reminded him of home: a yogi statue, and Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture. And clothes, of course—all packed together as tight as could be in his one suitcase.
He boarded the plane in Kathmandu, Nepal, about to leave his childhood and his family behind for at least four years.
It took 32 hours and one layover in Chicago for Bijaya to make his way to Northern Kentucky University. But it only took one interaction at NKU, the very first one, with Michael Hatton, to know that he made the right decision to study here.
Hatton, assistant professor in the Theatre and Dance program in the NKU School of the Arts, and Bijaya, a freshman physics major, were paired up through the International Friendship Family Program (IFFP) at NKU, hosted through the Office of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS).
The year-long program, which is currently only open to NKU faculty and staff members, is designed so that international students are matched and talking with their host family before they step foot on campus.
Fatimata Ndiaye, IFFP coordinator and ISSS intercultural programs coordinator, says that this pre-introduction is vital since most international students have never left their home country. “This program allows international students to have a look into family life in the U.S.,” she says. “Students can Skype while still in their host country and direct questions to families as far as what life is like in the U.S., what they need to bring, etc. I think it’s much more meaningful when they have that connection with a family.”
Students aren’t required to live with the chosen faculty or staff mentor—Bijaya lives with four roommates off campus, for instance—and are free to choose how much time is spent with them. The program only has one requirement: touch base once a month.
Hatton, who has been mentoring Bijaya since August, has been thrilled with the process.
“I’ve always wanted to get involved with something like this—to find a great community connection with international students,” Hatton says. “I started traveling internationally when I was 14 years old. I’ve traveled to the Middle East, Central America, and all over Europe. Everyone who I’ve come into contact with always welcomed me and made me feel like I was part of their family. I jumped at the opportunity to do that for someone coming here.”
Hatton and Bijaya were one of 10 pairs this academic year, and they’re the perfect example of how the program works.
Hatton wanted Bijaya to experience the milestones of typical American culture. Hatton took Bijaya and his roommates to Findlay Market. They went to the movie theater together. For Halloween, they carved pumpkins together. For Thanksgiving dinner with friends, they helped each other cook a full meal while incorporating some of Bijaya’s family dishes—combining a little bit of both cultures. For Christmas, after hearing Bijaya wanted to attend a Christian worship service, Hatton took him to Covington Cathedral for midnight mass. The next morning, they exchanged gifts.
One particular memory they both spoke of fondly is the afternoon they spent looking at Bijaya’s family home and farm back in Gurkha, Nepal, on Google Earth. Bijaya told Hatton about his childhood, the family farm, his parents, and the restaurants they own.
“For me, as a teacher and person, the IFF Program definitively proves that the world is a much smaller place than we think it is,” Hatton says. “Even though we look different and speak different languages and eat different foods, we’re all interconnected. We have a relationship that bridges the cultural divide.”
For both Hatton and Bijaya, the program turned into more than just a touch-base-once-a-month relationship.
“The program not only helped me adjust here, but it helped share the culture and traditions between us,” Bijaya says. “It is always fun to have good friends like Michael. I was lucky to get him as my family.”
Ndiaye says she hopes to have as many University faculty and staff members involved as possible in the future.
“Ideally we would like each student coming in the fall to have a family,” Fatima says. There are more than 450 international students who come to NKU from 45 countries across the globe each year.
The partnership will be over at the end of the academic year, but the two still plan to keep in contact.
“As far as I’m concerned, he will always be welcome in my home and be a part of my family,” Hatton says. “It’s been so cool to see him blossom—seeing his personality really shine through and seeing him gain confidence. He’s taught me so much about his language and family. I think of him as a younger brother.”