WMC has a Christmas Pop-up Restaurant for International Students and Host Families

“The months of December through February are typically the most challenging for international students in West Michigan because they have been here 4-6 months, it is cold and dark most of the time and homesickness intensifies,” says Kyle Kempster, WMC International Student Program director, “add to that the pandemic and virtual learning and it can be even more challenging.” The school has students from Korea, South Africa, Spain and Vietnam.

That is why the school held a Christmas Pop-up Restaurant. “I was talking with Chanho Song, one of our partner agents about the challenges our students face and he suggested the idea of a pop-up restaurant.” This would allow students and families to get outside, eat food that provided a taste of home and we could exchange gifts. The school usually has monthly cultural activities including a Christmas event but Covid has changed that.

Song and Kempster prepared food from the different countries represented at the school. They served Bobotie from South Africa, Paella from Spain, Ddeokbokki (rice cake) and Eomuk from Korea, Pho from Vietnam. Students were asked to bring gifts to exchange and to make a Christmas card for local nursing home resident. The pop-up restaurant was hosted at Ferrysburg Community Church. “It was a good central location and they have an outside heater and a fire pit,” says Kempster.

South African Bobotie
Spanish Paella
Korean Ddeokbokki (rice cake)
Vietnamese Pho (left) and Korean Eomuk

“My son and host son had a great time! I heard all about the fun and how yummy the food was,” shared Jami Dunbar who hosts a student from Vietnam. Sara Visker, who hosts students from Vietnam and Korea enjoyed the event, “It was a great time! Thank you so much for all the amazing food and good company.  The kids all had a great time!

Kempster says he has work to do on his Paella. “One of the students from Spain shared that he really liked it but one told me, ‘It was good Mr. Kempster, but it was not Paella,’ “I am determined to have them tell me it tasted like home,” added Kempster.

Anh Van Trinh, a student from Vietnam, enjoyed the event, “I loved the Pho. This was a fun break from virtual learning. Even though it was outside in the cold, it was fun to see the other students and taste the good food from different countries.”

“Some of these students were unable to return home in the summer and have been here since last year,” said Kempster. “These events can help students adjust to a different culture while continuing their educational program.” Kempster says cooking food from another country helps him understand the students’ cultures. He adds that, “I may fail but I usually get credit for trying. It is interesting cooking with different spices like saffron, curry, turmeric, coriander and cumin because you realize there is a whole different world of flavor out there. And it is nice to experience that with my students.”

Western Michigan Christian High School and Middle School is a 7-12 Christian school in Norton Shores Michigan and is a member of West Michigan Christian Schools that includes Fremont Christian School, Grand Haven Christian School, Muskegon Christian School and New Era Christian School.