There are many definitions of family.
For participants in Westminster College's foster program, that definition goes beyond blood relations and friends to includes forging lasting, solid bonds with strangers from a strange land.
The purpose of the program is to provide a support system for Westminster's international students as they acclimate themselves to a new culture, while the host families have the benefit of experiencing a new culture as well.
"The main purpose is to give the international students someone they can go to and help them with the transition - they can learn the American culture from the families," said Sneha Bharandi, a sophomore exchange student who helps coordinate the program. "Having a host family gives you a place to go."
Fulton resident Carolyn Hulett, and her husband, Deane, have been providing that home away from home to eight students over the past four years. When the first of their adopted brood graduate this May, Hulett said "it's just going to tear my heart out."
"All of our children are away from home, and I've always been interested in other cultures," Hulett said of the couple's decision to get involved in the program. "The first two girls we got the first year were awesome. They'd come over and cook, or come over and study when they needed a quiet place to go to.
"I just fell in love with the kids. They're such sweethearts."
She was so in love with the kids, in fact, that the Huletts officially fostered two more students each year (while maintaing the connection with the first pair), often including the students' friends as well. Over the past four years they have played host to students from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Ethiopia.
They take "their girls" to church events, give rides to the store, host activities such as bonfires and pumpkin carving, and even have helped pick out cars.
"Last week we had a big group over and we made candy, and a few weeks before that we made fall arrangements for them to take back to their (dorm) rooms," Hulett said as she enthused about the many ways she and her adopted children have bonded. "I love learning their culture, tasting their food - they bring their own spices and take over the kitchen, it's so much fun to watch them.
"They like to do things with you because they like to learn our culture."
Hulett said the international students she has taken in absolutely have become family.
"I love them like they're my own," Hulett said. "It's like they need mom and dad when their moms and dads are not there.
"All of my kids know my girls. It's just like they're all one of us
Hulett said she takes her role of foster parent seriously.
"One night one of the girls called, "Mom, I need help: Where can I go?' Her boyfriend had tripped and split his tooth," she recalled. "I called my dentist and he came out at 9 p.m. and got it fixed."
Dawa Dolma Sherpa, a senior from Nepal, said she has enjoyed being one of the Huletts' girls.
"She invites us often at her house and we do activities, we have dinner or lunch, wometimes we cook for them, if we need a ride we call them," Sherpa said. "It has been a good experience.
"Being away from home is not easy. I like knowing there is somebody we can always ask for help."
Muludrhan Gebrekidan, a freshman from Ethiopia, said she got involved with the foster program - and, by extension, the Huletts - because she "wanted to know the culture and interact with the community here."
"At the same time, since we're far away from home, it's an opportunity to interact with a family and feel like I'm part of a home."
In an album packed with photos and a list of names and birthdays, a card from yet another adopted daughter echoes the value of that kind of comfort.
"To: Mom Carolyn and Daddy Deane. There are no words for me to tell you how much you mean to me," Madusha Mayadunne wrote in the card. "You make me the happiest and the luckiest for I have the best family away from my own."