Sharing American holiday customs with international students at Fort Hays State

Artile Photo

By Diane Gasper-O’Brien
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. – In an effort to familiarize international graduate students with some of the American holiday customs, the Fort Hays State University Graduate School sponsored a holiday reception for those students in the Memorial Union Monday.

Dr. Jennifer Bonds-Raacke, dean of the Graduate School, said she and her staff were brainstorming one day and came up with the idea of building ginger bread houses. So she ordered several kits that included everything to build a house, including a large tube of frosting and a variety of tiny candies for decoration.

“We were thinking what would be fun for our international students to experience some of the traditional holiday culture,” she said. “I think it’s going pretty well.”


Fatimah Alhazmy, a graduate student from Saudia Arabia, was taking a little ribbing about how professional her ginger bread house looked.

Alhazmy, a fine arts major with an emphasis in ceramics, was part of a team that included Linda Ganstrom, professor in the Department of Art and Design.

“We’re just a construction crew here,” Ganstrom said as all four people at her table took turns adding their personal touches to their house.

A table nearby with hot chocolate and other holiday goodies helped provide a festive atmosphere for the students.

“We need to make shutters for our windows,” Aminata Diarra said as she worked on a house with Leslie Paige, director of the Office of Scholarship and Sponsored Projects in the Graduate School.

Diarra – a native of Mali, a country in West Africa – is a freshman who now lives in Denver. She said she chose Fort Hays State because her older sister, Yamoudji, is a current FHSU student and has had a good experience here.

While Diarra is not a graduate student, all international students were welcome to participate. Diarra said that when she heard about the event, she thought it would be a good way to take a break from studying for finals.

Diarra already had taken two finals and said, “This is relaxing before I go study for more.”

She said she had never made a ginger bread house before but that this wouldn’t be her last.

“This is pretty cool,” Diarra said. “Maybe I’ll go buy one. This could be something for our family to do together.”

There are 67 international students enrolled in on-campus graduate programs at FHSU this fall. That is 20 percent of all on-campus graduate students. Nearly two dozen of those participated in Monday’s event.

“We really want our international students to know they are wanted at FHSU. Our international students make the Graduate School complete,” Bonds-Raacke said. “Our one goal of this event was to show them how much they are valued.”

Native countries of other students participating in the event included Germany, England and Brazil and represented majors ranging from biology to music to clinical psychology.

During the house building, personnel from the Graduate School helped created a “hope chain,” where students, faculty and staff responded to questions such as “What is your favorite part about FHSU?” The responses on black and gold paper were linked together and hung in the Graduate School.

“We hope this activity helped remind everyone of what really matters, especially at a stressful time during the semester,” Bonds-Raacke said.

The faculty and staff seemed to enjoy the event as much as the students.

“It was a great opportunity to connect informally with our students,” Bonds-Raacke said, “and learn more about them on a personal level.”


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