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During the holidays and beyond, ‘Home Away From Home’ connects international students to the community

The program partners community members with Northeastern graduate students as a way to develop relationships and share experiences. “It’s really about feeling that connection,” says Amy Dablemont Burnes, a Boston resident who started the program.

For Northeastern University graduate student Makarand Madhavi, moving from India to Boston was not just an opportunity to earn a degree in software engineering, it was a chance to meet new people and experience new cultures. 

One group of people was particularly interesting to Madhavi. 

“I was looking forward to meeting native Bostonians,” Madhavi said. 

Thanks to the Home Away From Home program, not only did Madhavi get to meet Bostonians, he joined them for a very Massachusetts-based tradition.

“I got to experience a classic American Thanksgiving,” Madhavi said. “Turkey and everything.”

The program partners local community members with international graduate students as a way to develop relationships, share experiences and connect the community and the university. 

This year, roughly 65 Bostonians and graduate students representing more than 10 countries have been matched. 

The winter holidays are an especially active time. There are Northeastern athletics games to be attended, dinners to be shared, historic and cultural sites to visit, skating trips to the Frog Pond, even ski trips being planned, participants say.

“It’s all about being good neighbors,” says Mallory Pernaa, director of off-campus engagement and support at Northeastern and the official matchmaker for the program. “This is just another great way to do it, so students don’t feel like they are just living in a student community the whole time, because that’s not what Boston is.”

Both students and community partners interviewed say part of the charm of the program is that the relationships among students and community members can develop organically. Community members don’t have to commit to a certain number of host events, for instance, and the relationships are not meant to be mentor/mentee relationships or to be networking opportunities.

“It’s not to get a job, it’s not to network — those things may happen, but it’s really about feeling that connection,” explains Amy Dablemont Burnes, a South End resident who started the program. “You’re folding someone into your life. You don’t have to change what you’re doing; you’re just expanding your circle.”

In fact, the program began with Dablemont Burnes expanding her family’s circle. 

Dablemont Burnes has an adopted daughter who hails from Ethiopia, and a few years ago, the family was looking to meet someone with the same heritage.

Northeastern seemed a good place to look. 

“I really thought that Northeastern has the capacity and depth of the student body that it would be a great match,” Dablemont Burnes says. “Any student who comes from around the world, who comes to this community, is someone we would welcome in our home.”

So, Dablemont Burnes reached out to her friend John Tobin, vice president of city and community affairs at the university. 

After chatting, the two realized that there were likely lots of students — and community members — seeking similar connections.

“I have known Amy and her husband Ethan for years, and very early on, I realized that anything they were involved in revolved around making things better and welcoming for all kinds of people,” Tobin says. “So, when Amy and I took our hour-long walk around campus so that she could tell me about her idea for “Home Away From Home,” I actually knew within the first three minutes that this is something that I just had to get to our colleagues in student affairs immediately.

“Home Away From Home is just getting started but, wow, its impact has been so positively impactful to our international students and immensely gratifying for our gracious neighborhood hosts.”


Harsh Shah was paired with Dablemont Burnes and her husband, Ethan, last year. 

“They are both so welcoming and so kind,” Shah, a master’s student in information systems who comes from Pune, India, says. “This is exactly what we want, being an international student — to meet people in Boston and have a cultural exchange.”

Shah said he, unfortunately, had to forgo a trip to the Cape and Thanksgiving dinner last year, but is looking forward to a potential ski trip this winter, although he said he most enjoys joining Dablemont Burnes and her husband for a beer by a warm fire.

“I often go to their place, hang out, have a chat over a beer, and we can talk about literally everything,” Shah says. “To have people that care about you, invite you to be around them, it just makes it so much better.”

Sruthi Veeradhi, a graduate student in project management, similarly wanted to make a connection with local residents.

“I love talking to people — it’s part of who I am,” says Veeradhi, who is from Bangalore, India.

Veeradhi and her community partner very quickly developed a relationship based on love of conversation.

“As students we need another channel, and the conversations we have are the conversations we’d have with family back home,” Veeradhi says. “There’s curiosity and an interest to learn combined with underlying care and love that we have as people.”

Read More: Northeastern

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