The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force at Oklahoma Christian University is creating welcome baskets for incoming international students.
Sophomore Nikkita Addy, a committee member of the DEI Student Council and the Multicultural Committee Chair for Oklahoma Christian’s Student Government Association, has played a large role in this project’s process.
“This year I was talking with Kelsey (Herndon) in the international office, and he was telling me how they did welcome baskets last year, but he hasn’t been able to give it his all the way he wants to,” Addy said. “He also does a lot of things himself, and it’s hard for one person to juggle all that, so, I was like, ‘I’ll take that on, that’s something I would love to do.’”
Addy, Herndon, the DEI task force and others have worked on acquiring supplies for the baskets throughout the year. Each of the 30 laundry baskets will include toothbrushes, toothpaste, towels, sheets and pillows. Memorial Road Church of Christ will help provide comforters as well.
“We were only planning on making 12 or 15,” Addy said. “Then Kelsey was like ‘No, we’re going to get 30. I really want to be able to do something for all of them (the incoming international students).’”
Their plan is to leave the components separate for storage reasons, then build and deliver them ahead of the international students arriving for the fall semester.
Addy said her connection to international students played a role in her involvement.
“I’ve made a lot of the international students here close friends of mine and my whole life I’ve grown up around immigrants,” Addy said. “I’ve had international students like my cousins come live with me and I’ve seen them go through the process of being an international student.”
Gladys Uwera Mihigo, a senior from Rwanda, said the process of moving internationally was difficult.
“When you’re leaving a country coming to America, you can’t pack everything,” Mihigo said. “You can’t pack a laundry basket, you can’t pack comforters, because that’s too heavy. So, you take essential stuff like clothes and shoes.”
Mihigo said although she did not receive as much as the incoming students will, she is grateful.
“When I was a freshman, I didn’t get a lot of what the incoming freshmen are going to get,” Mihigo said. “You come here, you don’t know anyone: you come alone. You don’t have your parents. You don’t even know Uber exists. You don’t have an American card, so it’s very confusing. So, when I got into my dorm and saw they bought sheets and towels for me, I was very happy and felt really grateful.”
Katie Martinez, the student leadership coordinator, said this project aims to make the process smoother for incoming students.
“Oftentimes, international students have a hard time finding a ride to Walmart, Target, the mall, those kinds of places,” Martinez said. “So, this kind of helps them get comfortable and then have a few days to feel welcome and find a ride, thereby alleviating some first-day anxieties.”
However, Mihigo said other differences between Rwanda and Oklahoma include the way people act.
“It’s weird to see, like when you make eye contact with people, how they smile at you,” Mihigo said. “Back home, you smile at people you know, so the first day I would be like, ‘did I meet this person?’”
Mihigo said it was a culture shock.
Some of the other differences Mihigo mentioned included Oklahoma’s weather, which gets both hotter and colder than Rwanda. Rwanda also uses a different currency and does not have Walmart.
Mihigo said incoming international students should be ready for a lot of new and different experiences.
“Get out of your comfort zone and try new things and meet new people,” Mihigo said.
Mihigo said being away from home can be hard, but projects like the welcome baskets will help.
“This project is going to be amazing,” Mihigo said. “When the students see what’s been bought for them, all of that is going to make them feel very welcomed, very at home, and it’s going to make them see that really OC cares for them.”
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