International Flags

Pieces of Home: An Inside Glimpse at 8 International Students' Lives

A smorgasbord of favorite snacks. A beloved hockey jersey. A decked-out skateboard. These are just a few things that McKendree University’s newest international students have brought with them from their homelands. These items are the lifeline that connects them to the places they call home.

It’s true that these international students, who’ve come from 23 different countries, decided to become Bearcats for several reasons that students from the United States do – small and personalized class sizes led by passionate faculty, a tradition of excellence, and a vibrant student experience in beautiful Lebanon, Ill. (only a stone’s throw from exciting St. Louis, Missouri). However, staying in an unfamiliar place away from the comforts of home can often make one homesick. By keeping important and cherished keepsakes nearby, these international students can find solace far away from their native countries and remember that, like the faculty and staff at McKendree, their friends and loved ones are cheering for their success from thousands of miles away.

Meet some of McKendree’s newest international Bearcats and learn about the mementos they’ve brought with them to remind them of home.


Christoph Gruber

Home country: Austria

Faith can often be a vital crux of one’s life. Exercise science and sport performance major Christoph Gruber, a defender on the McKendree men’s soccer team, holds tight to his faith, thanks to a gift from his mother that he brought with him from his homeland of Austria. “My mom gave me this silver cross with a crucifix on it as a present one day,” Christoph said. “Wearing it and seeing Jesus on the cross keeps me connected to God. Moreover, I am a Roman Catholic and I use my cross for prayer.”


Codi Bacon
Codi Bacon

Home country: Alberta, Canada

Talent and strategy often work hand in hand to help sports teams claim victory, but a little luck often helps, too. Sports management major and hockey enthusiast Codi Bacon would readily agree with this. A ringette and hockey player in the Great White North and defenseman for McKendree’s women’s hockey team, Codi keeps luck close at hand by storing her boyfriend’s practice jersey in her stall. “My boyfriend and I are both from Alberta, but he moved to British Columbia to join the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, a Junior A ice hockey team, which is a big move,” she said. Codi is hoping his jersey, a reminder of their shared passion for Canada’s national pastime, will bring the Bearcats luck this season.


Philipp Schmidt

Home country: Germany

If you ask biology major Philipp Schmidt, shared passions and activities can help keep you connected to your loved ones and your homeland. That’s what he thinks every time he hops on his skateboard, which was once his father’s. His thin, well-loved skateboard is bedecked with plenty of stickers, which feature his hometown of Heidelberg, his father’s company, and Café Park, his favorite café back home where he and his friends would get together, drink delicious coffee, and chat. “As a little kid, I first started skateboarding because my father used to in his childhood. During the pandemic, I had nothing to do, so I started to skate again,” Philipp said. “I have a lot of friends who skate, but I would often skate with two friends in particular. We always used to go to the same little park, listen to music, play basketball, and improve our skateboarding.” He’s cautious about skateboarding in the States, however. As a midfielder for McKendree’s men’s soccer team, he wants to stay injury-free and ready to compete!


Fionnuala Keane
Fionnuala Keane

Home country: Northern Ireland

Sometimes, a cup of hot tea is just what someone needs to evoke a sense of warmth and comfort. Fionnuala Keane, an economics major from Coleraine, Northern Ireland, finds this to be true as well. “My parents sent me some of my favorite tea bags – Punjana English Breakfast Tea – biscuits, chocolates, and snacks from back home, which has given me a sense of comfort when I’m feeling that I miss home,” she said. She’s also brought along treasured photos of her family, friends, and dog, which reminds her of her connection to them. “These photos were taken at times when I was having fun with the people who are most important to me – my sister’s 21st birthday and my leaving party before I came to the U.S.,” she reminisced. “When I look at these photos, I am reminded of good times with my friends and family and am reminded that they are only a phone call away when I’m feeling lonely.” In spite of any homesickness she might feel, Fionnuala seems to be fitting into her settings very well; in fact, she recently went to her first St. Louis Cardinals game at Busch Stadium!


Yuval Halpert

Home country: Israel

Relying on a higher power can often help believers endure trying times and bring them comfort. Exercise science and sport performance major Yuval Halpert turns to his faith to both remind himself of where he’s from and help keep himself afloat. He uses his prayer kit, which consists of a yamaka, two cow skin strips, a white tallit, and a small prayer book to spend about 10 minutes in prayer each day, aside from Saturday, the day of rest. “Being Jewish and keeping all these things with me helps me remember where I come from and lets me feel closer to home no matter where I am,” Yuval said. “I believe God helped me to get to where I am and achieve what I’ve achieved.” A forward for McKendree’s men’s hockey team, Yuval also brought a few other items to tether him to home – an Israeli flag, plenty of photos of his friends and family, and a stuffed elephant plush from his younger brother. “I actually gave it to him when he was born – I was three at the time. After a few years, he gave it to me, and I’ve kept it ever since,” Yuval said.


Takeru Yamada
Takeru Yamada

Home country: Japan

It isn’t easy living halfway across the world, especially when your favorite food happens to be fresh fish caught daily near the bay where you live. This is what business administration major Takeru Yamada feels; he misses eating sashimi and playing with his dog, Kyameru. Fortunately, Takeru made sure to bring some comfort foods from the Land of the Rising Sun. He’s brought dozens of packets of rice, soup, noodles, and even fun treats like Kit-Kats along with him! While food can certainly act as a shared common language for people everywhere, Takeru also brought a handy translation book with him, which was written by English-speaking people for foreigners to understand more easily. Even though he keeps it in pristine condition, the pages are soft from use. A fan of martial arts (especially kempo), Takeru also brought his cherished kimono and zori (Japanese shoes). This type of formalwear is usually reserved for special occasions such as seizin siki, Japan’s Coming of Age Day, which celebrates young people who have reached the age of maturity – 20 years of age. Takeru, however, might break it out for other occasions at McKendree. “I might wear it to any international student affairs or get-togethers,” he mused.


Dasha Sokova

Home country: Russia

On even the coldest of nights, looking through photos of loved ones by candlelight can be all the light one needs. Psychology major Dasha Sokova can attest to this, especially since she hails from Ural in Western Siberia, where the Ural Mountains scrape the skies. A candle with the word “Ural” adorning its façade has made its way with her to the United States, reminding her of home. “Ural and Siberian people tend to be strong in spirit and rich in character, ready for harsh conditions. Every time I light this candle, I’m reminded of where I come from and who I am,” Dasha said. She’s also brought some of her favorite photos of her friends and family, along with a teddy bear that a friend gave to her just before she left for the United States. “These things make me remember warm memories and bring me positive emotions,” Dasha reflected.


Fabian Wennerlof
Fabian Wennerlof

Home country: Sweden

Making your mark comes naturally to Fabian Wennerlof, a math major from Sweden. As a member of the McKendree golf team, Fabian knows that marking the ball on the golf course gives players the opportunity to clean the ball off and allow other golfers to putt. He uses his unique piece of home – a Swedish krona – as a marker on the green. “They changed the coins that are used in Sweden about 5 years ago, but I saved one and use it as a marker whenever I play golf,” Fabian said. “Unfortunately, I lost this specific coin on my first college tournament a few weeks ago, but I found a Swedish five-krona in my bag, which I use now!” Fabian also noted that some people in Sweden buy coins to use as markers on the golf course, but, as he put it, “Why buy what you already have?”

We are thankful for our international Bearcats and hope that these pieces of home bring them comfort and give them strength as they continue to strive for excellence and make their mark here at McKendree!




Contact International Admission


Photo of Madeline KuperMadeline Kuper

International Admission Counselor

(618) 537-6400 or +1-618-537-6400




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