Imagine going through all those changes required for college transition in a foreign country with a different language and with your family, not hundreds, but thousands of miles away.
The International Friendship Program was established to ease students through this sometimes difficult transition.
“The goal of the International Friendship Program is to connect UNK international students with families or individuals in the Kearney area for the purpose of communication, cultural sharing and enjoying fun activities together,” said Bonnie Payne the international outreach coordinator.
Sometimes those connections are just fun, but at other times they fulfill a critical need. Payne said. “I had a fairly young Chinese male come to me in January after having just graduated from high school a semester early and leaving his country at 17 to study in the U.S. I connected him with a Kearney family, and they developed a very close relationship as well.”
Payne said the young man continued spending time with this family, and the relationship was especially important to him when his grandfather passed away and he was unable to go home.
“Not too long ago, this young man’s mother said to him that when he first came to Kearney, she was very worried about him. But now that she sees he has such a wonderful Kearney family, she is not worried about him anymore," Payne said. "So not only does the program benefit the students, but it even brings peace of mind to the parents who are so far away from their kids,”
The program is designed to supplement the students’ academic experiences by getting them off campus and into the community, Payne said. “These experiences allow students a personal look at American culture, something that they may not receive in a classroom setting.”
Peiji Li, a freshman business administration major from Kunming, China, and a member of the International Friendship Program said, “The program definitely helps international students like me to understand that we should not always stay with those people from our same culture. We should try something different since we are here to study not only the knowledge in textbooks, we are here to experience something new.”
Payne said the program gives students a look at family life “from the inside” rather than observing it “from the outside.” It allows international students to practice and improve their English skills and to share their culture with others.
“The result is that students get acclimated to life in Kearney much more easily. They deal with fewer issues related to culture shock, and they feel less homesick,” Payne said.
Currently, 124 students are connected with 88 families or individuals in the community, but Payne is thinking bigger. “It is my desire that 100 percent of our international student population participate in this program and get connected to a Kearney family or individual.”
Last year, 17 percent of international students participated in the program. This year, that percentage has grown to 25-30 percent. Payne hopes that by the end of this year she will have 33 percent of the international students involved, which means the program will need a lot of family hosts as well.
The commitment is not much for the student or families. It suggests getting together as much, if not more than twice a month for activities such as meals, movies, game nights, holiday traditions, attending campus activities or even just enjoying outdoor activities.
“Most students want to experience American family life,” Payne said. “For many, the most important thing is lots of conversation so they can improve their listening and speaking skills.”
Li said, “As an international student, I really need to know more about American culture and lifestyle. This is a great opportunity for me to broaden my horizon.”
Li has made memories in Kearney that she would not have made without the International Friendship Program, one of her fondest this summer with her host family. “One day this summer, June 27, my host family asked me to swim in their lake. They also invited my friend Tom. We spent the whole afternoon in the water playing with my family’s young son and had a great time,” Li said. “Tom and I got a sunburn after that, but it still made the best day of the summer.”
For additional information about the International Friendship Program, please contact Bonnie Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org or 308.865.8939. You can also check out the website at www.unk.edu/international.
UPCOMING International Education Week events
• FACULTY/STAFF DEVELOPMENT TRIP TO CHINA: Monday, Nov. 15, 12:15 p.m., Ponderosa Room E
If you have ever thought about exploring the mystic sites of the orient, meeting interesting people, or simply sampling many wonderful foods, bring your lunch and attend this session.
• INTERNATIONAL STUDIES FAIR:
Tuesday, Nov. 16, 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., Ponderosa Room E
Some of the booths you can visit include: Internships for International Studies, Study Abroad, International Businesses, Modern Languages, The Peace Corps, Big Guide to Living and Working Abroad, Rostock Program, Teaching English as a Second Language, ROTC, Model UN, and more.
Food will be provided.
• INTERNATIONAL FRIENDSHIP
PROGRAM: Wednesday, Nov. 17, 12:15 p.m., Ponderosa Room E
Enjoy a panel discussion by UNK international students and community members (including Mayor Stan Clouse). Food will be provided.
• STUDY ABROAD FAIR: Thursday, Nov. 18, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., Ponderosa Room A
The Study Abroad Office and the AIS (Ambassadors of International Study) are hosting a Study Abroad Fair. Free international appetizers will be served.