On the patio of the New Dorm last week, the intervarsity of international students gathered around a hearty bonfire, roasting s’mores and chatting about their week.
“I met amazing people and got to talk about Colombia, my college experience and even played some Colombian music,” Juan Vargas Hernandez, a second-semester sophomore and transfer student from Colombia, said. “After that, a friend and I decided to have a Hispanic night, which we are working on.”
Former Kenyan student Monicah Wanjiru ‘18 started the ministry group in 2015 after meeting an international student who felt very alone and wanted to leave Hillsdale — a place where it seemed that no one understood her and that was more religious than she was used to.
“It was the most religious environment she’d been in,” Wanjiru said, “and the most lonely she’d ever felt…I thought, for the first person to welcome her to America to be a Christian and to love on her, that for a non-Christian opens so many doors.”
The intervarsity is growing more popular and well-known as sophomores Sofia Krusmark and Emille Martelli strive to foster global relationships on campus and explore new events for campus this year.
“I want to be able to cater events to their interest,” Krusmark said. “I want all of them to feel comfortable. I want them to come because they want to hang out with each other and be part of a community that welcomes them and accepts them.”
Intervarsity staffer Griffith Brown ’17 said the group partnered with Countryside Bible Church and presented the students with care packages filled with the basics — towels, blankets, toiletries, and contact information. They are hoping to schedule more events like the bonfire as well as give them options for Thanksgiving, fall, and Christmas breaks.
“On the radar right now are fall break and Thanksgiving break, which can be tough for international students because they don’t have anywhere to go,” Brown said. “So we’re coordinating with some local churches and with Countryside to get them a place to be.”
Although the intervarsity cultivates a Christian outlook and mission, Martelli said the primary focus is developing authentic friendships.
“The goal is for the international students to connect with each other and to connect with Christians on campus,” Martelli said. “This ministry is focused on welcoming the internationals, helping them integrate into campus culture, and…more specifically, we want our ministry to be very relationally focused…and we want it to be a place where they can explore their beliefs.”
Krusmark agreed, saying that though they want to connect the students with Christians on campus, they believe that getting them settled and integrated into Hillsdale is the main goal.
“It’s just honestly building relationships with them…and having intentional relationships,” Krusmark said. “And also just making them feel homier at Hillsdale…Students here who are from America get really homesick. And imagine being in a place that’s not even remotely like your culture.”
Intervarsity approached Krusmark and Martelli about leadership opportunities for the international students’ group, and both found that they had personal connections with the group. Krusmark’s mother is from Chile so she grew up in a multicultural environment where she ate Hispanic food and had people come unexpectedly to her house at late hours.
“It was a whole culture that was in my life,” Krusmark said. “This friendliness and this joy and love that are so different in some ways from our American culture, so meeting with students from Kenya or Colombia who actually get this warmth and this culture, I can relate with them.”
Martelli discovered her passion for international relations over the summer when she went to Jordan to teach English to Syrian refugees with the English Language Institute of China, a program dedicated to sending Christians to Asia to teach English as a second language. Through the ELIC program, her teaching team met the locals, refugees, and other teams.
“I loved the mix of cultures and ethnic backgrounds and I loved forming relationships with people of so many different backgrounds,” Martelli said. “I connected really well with the people in Jordan even though I didn’t speak their language and I came back from that trip with a heart for internationals and felt like God is leading me to invest in these relationships.”
The international students appreciated the goal of the ministry group as well. Kenyan freshman Rachael Kiti said she joined the intervarsity because it was nondenominational and would assist her faith.
“You cannot say it’s Anglican way, you cannot say it’s Catholic way. It’s just a free way…it welcomes everyone,” Kiti said. “The long-term goal is maintaining my growth in the Christian faith…and at the moment, I expect anything good that praises God.”
Vargas Hernandez said he loves sharing his Colombian culture and learning about others’ cultures as well.
“My favorite thing is to see that so many people are very interested in getting to know us, talking to us, and learning things from our countries,” Vargas Hernandez said. “The people at Hillsdale are all very open to get to know us and that is simply amazing.”
Both Krusmark and Martelli hope to show the international students how much they love and care for them. For Krusmark, it is important to display the same kind of love Christ displays.
“Jesus has that kind of love where he runs down the driveway and he picks us up and welcomes us,” Krusmark said. “And I want to be that.”