Here’s a thought experiment: forget all you know of the St. Lawrence campus and imagine being a first-year international student. You’ve just arrived here, unfamiliar with the U.S., its culture and weather.
Turning leaves and crisp air quickly give way to a changing landscape and then—from the perspective of most students, international or not—everything changes.
Suddenly, it’s the third week of December. Finals are over and most students, faculty, and staff head home. Some international students, who hail from 35 countries, head home, but many stay here. And they notice that the thrum of campus fades to wintry quiet and they ask, “What do we do now?”
Enter the International Student Services (ISS) winter break local host program at St. Lawrence, organized by ISS Coordinator Tsewang Lama ’10, M’15 and International Student Advisor Megan Putney.
“I took part in the host family program when I first came to St. Lawrence as a student in 2006,” Lama says. “My host family gave me a place to stay and took me shopping until I could move onto campus. I am so grateful they were there for me. I know how it feels to be far from home, so I enjoy doing all I can to make sure our international students have the best experience possible.”
Lama and Megan Putney say the program is needed now more than ever.
“Students and hosts get so much out of being together,” Putney says. “Through simply sharing a meal or by going to local events, participants learn about differences and similarities in lifestyles, perspectives, and customs. Intercultural learning environments foster understanding and collaboration.”
International students agree. The program connects them with people who help them learn more about the North Country, see things they never imagined, and—most important—have some fun.
“During winter break,” Francesca Mnenula ’26 says, “I got to experience a cold, snowy, yet beautiful winter wonderland Christmas that I had only seen on TV.”
Originally from Malawi, Mnenula is now majoring in data science and economics. She says one of her favorite experiences over break was visiting Lake Placid.
“We went by the Olympic center and saw the amazing scenery of the area. Some fantastic alumni who work there warmly welcomed us and showed us around. We also went window shopping, got coffee and had lunch.”
She credits ISS, the St. Lawrence Alumni Executive Council, and student leaders, for planning a long list of programs and events during the winter break.
“I also spent evenings with friends, sharing stories and meals,” Mnenula says. “Some of us made our first gingerbread houses with University President Kathryn Morris at her home on campus, the MacAllaster House. Truly, I had a great first Christmas at SLU and being together made it feel a lot warmer.”
Kelsang Chokey ’26 also explored the North Country’s snowy landscapes.
“Some of my fellow international students and I took a trip to Titus Mountain,” she says. “It was definitely a highlight of this winter break. It was my first time on a ski hill and the road trip there and back again—and having pizza together—was a great time. Simply going out and having fun was amazing. I hope other students get to experience this next year.”
In addition to ISS staff, more than a dozen University faculty and staff members have signed up to host international students since November. It’s a continuation of a program launched by ISS in 2003 that was recently interrupted by the pandemic, but started up again this winter with the same mission: help international students transition to St. Lawrence while learning from one another and building long-lasting connections.
That’s what Aaron Todd ’00, M’06 did. He’s the assistant director of marketing, assessment, and technology in the University’s Center for Career Excellence. Todd introduced Kevin Rasamimanana ’26 to the quintessential tradition of decorating Christmas cookies.
“My mother has been hosting a cookie decorating party for years,” he says, “and it was great to add Kevin to the mix. We traded stories about holiday traditions with each other and learned a lot about life in his native Madagascar.”
Carol Smith is another ISS host. She’s the senior officer in the University’s corporate and foundations grants office and a United World College (UWC) campus liaison. UWC describes itself as an international network of schools and educational programs that share a common goal: “making education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.”
During the break, she brought St. Lawrence international students 10 meals each week from her church. And she took Nathan Inecia ’26 around Canton to get him acclimated to the area.
“We visited TAUNY (Traditional Arts in Upstate New York), where I got to explore some of the beautiful folk art of the North Country,” he says. “They also had a whole exhibition on wooden sleds. After that, we got some decadent treats at the bakery.”
They also went to the Frederic Remington Museum in Ogdensburg, near Canton where the artist grew up. Inecia was fascinated by the place, asking the museum docent in-depth questions about Remington’s art and the processes he used in his paintings and sculptures. Smith says the docent was delighted to talk with such an engaged museum visitor and asked many questions in return.
“She wanted to learn more about Nathan’s home country of Curaçao and its history,” Smith says. “I felt that, in a small way on that afternoon, the world came to the North Country, and the North Country went out to the world. Before leaving, Nathan promised the docent that he would visit the Canton Farmer’s Market in the summer to buy some of her handmade soap.”
University staff overseeing ISS plan to recruit more hosts and volunteers to work with international students when they arrive on campus in August, at the start of fall semester 2023.