It’s your first day on campus.
Everything is so big, new and mysterious. You’re in a new country. You’re awestruck at how different everything and everyone is from you and where you grew up. All day, it seems like you’re constantly reminded: ”I’m not home anymore.”
Then, surprisingly, as your day comes to a close, you see the American flag. It’s not raised nor waving in the wind like you remember; it’s not even very big. It doesn’t stand out to anyone but you…because it’s yours.
The flag is one of the most universal objects of symbolism throughout the world. Flags typically are used to represent communities, nationalities and/or ethnicities. The vast majority of people groups in the world have a flag that represents their shared values, beliefs and identity as a nation or tribe. Even the different elements of a flag (color, images, shapes etc.) speak to specific moments and ideas that communities cherish and draw inspiration from. The key, though, is that this collection of symbols unites the individuals in the community. It not only carries meaning, but helps those who understand its meaning to feel connected to each other. This mutual understanding and connection creates a space of safety and sense of home in each member of the group.
But what happens when an individual is physically separated from the group?
For most, if not all, international students, being separated from the familiarity and safety of their home countries has multiple negative effects. Despite being surrounded by people, they can feel very lonely. They have to face the anxiety of trying to learn the nuances of a new environment. Some even lose hope that they’ll ever be able to adjust.
So how can we help? Well, we can start by sharing a little piece of home.
Every year, IFI Columbus hosts a Welcome Party for international students on the Ohio State University campus. Hundreds of students join us for dancing, food, and games. But the main attraction by far is the photo booth, where students can find and take a picture with their home country’s flag. The excitement on each face is remarkable, reflecting an appreciation to see their homes recognized, represented, and celebrated!
But the value of making these flags available doesn’t end at the party.
“...When the enemy comes in like a flood, The Spirit of the LORD will lift up a standard against him.” - Isaiah 59:19
A former OSU student who had attended multiple IFI events often saw the Ukraine flag on display. When the conflict in Ukraine began, she planned to participate in a protest demonstration in the US. She reached out to our staff to request to borrow the flag for the protest. We gladly shared the flag, recognizing the significance of the request. Flags are used in wars to represent each of the nations in conflict; raising the flag on the battlefield symbolizes preparation to fight. Raising the Ukrainian flag at the protest helped Ukrainians in the US both identify with their countrymen in battle, and support them.
So the significance of sharing the flags of so many nations goes beyond decoration, or entertainment. Seeing their communities’ values and identity represented makes students feel at home in the US, and helps them stay connected to the other members of their community, even when they’re miles apart.
And IFI is happy to do its part to make that happen for every international friend we meet.