(Locator: Athens, GA)
Ling Rao: "It looks so good. I can't wait for mine."
Twenty-two-year-old Ling Rao is eager to sample a Thanksgiving meal. Ling arrived in the U.S less than three months ago and is learning about American traditions. A turkey dinner is a first.
Ling Rao: "What are those two things-stuffing? Oh! Thank you!"
Rao and others could feel lost among the 33,000 students at the University of Georgia, explains Lynn Bryant who works to welcome newcomers.
Lynn Bryant, International Student Ministry Director, Athens First United Methodist Church: "Statistics have shown that 75 percent of international students never receive an invitation to an American home, and as many as 85 percent will never be invited to an American church."
This community meal is just one of the events Athens First United Methodist Church organizes throughout the year, attracting more than 500 students.
Students at meal: "The food is very good!"
Mary Negley, Volunteer, International Student Ministry, Athens First United Methodist Church: "We've carved pumpkins; we teach them how to decorate a Christmas tree; we take them to the North Georgia mountains to go through a corn maze; we teach them how to hip hop dance. It's just so much fun."
Host Mary Negley says students love to spend time in homes.
Mary Negley: "Have you ever had pumpkin pie before?"
Participants say the program adds to their experience in the U.S.
Ling Rao, International Student: "I can't imagine my life without this ministry. I have met so many friends who have guided my life toward the better."
Elyas Tesfaye, International Student: "When I first came here, which was about three years ago, I had a lot of difficulty adjusting to the food and living alone. I heard of this program and that helped me strengthen my faith and get used to life here."
Lynn Bryant: "When churches think of foreign missions, they always think outside the country and there's a foreign mission field right here. There's over 125 different nations represented at UGA. When we make an impact on them and they go back to their countries, it's a ripple effect."
For more information contact Athens First United Methodist Church at 706-543-1442. The Church runs a year-round program called REACH International that welcomes international students from colleges and universities.
This story was first published on November 19, 2009.