The International Friendship Program re-launched at Knox this fall. The program pairs international students with “host families” in the city of Galesburg to help acclimate students to the new experiences that they might face in America.
The program was previously offered to international students, but has not been in place recently until this fall. The Office of International Student Services is still a new office, and one of its goals was to re-launch this program and sustain it in the coming years.
Assistant Director of International Student Services Rebecca Eckart is heading the International Friendship program. She said the program not only benefits the international students enrolled, but also the families that volunteer to be hosts.
“Most [international students] are coming to the U.S. for the first time. And college is such a specific context within American life, so I think it’s a great opportunity for them to get to know another context of life in America. I think for the families, it’s a really good opportunity to get to know somebody from another part of the world, probably in a way that otherwise they wouldn’t have that opportunity,” Eckart said.
International students were introduced to their host families the first weekend after New Student Orientation at an opening reception.
“My family is very friendly and they’re a young couple Ñ only married for five years, very humorous, and they have a farm and they grow their own food and I liked them very much. I can always depend on them for help, ask them about the country and the lives here,” freshman Nhi Chung, from Hanoi, Vietnam, said.
For some students, the reception was more awkward, as they were meeting a new family for the first time.
“It was nice meeting my family, a little bit awkward since everyone was shy but after a while we talked more and it was fun,” said freshman Ly Luong, who is from Vietnam.
The activities that the families and students plan together are completely up to them to decide on, rather than following a pre-made plan by the college. Their plans are dependent on the interests of both the students and the families.
“Things that I recommend are simple things: having meals together, or cooking together, or grocery shopping together, playing games together, things like that. But it’s really up to what the families are interested in and what the students are interested in,” Eckart said.
The program is not mandatory for incoming international students, but half of the eligible students chose to participate in it.
“Since we’re so far away from home, I just thought it’d be nice to have a sense of family and also to blend with the culture here. I think this program will help me adjust more to the lifestyle here. I’m looking forward to getting to know them more and knowing Galesburg more through them as well,” freshman Shruti Mungi, from Mumbai, India, said.
Freshman Leela Yeleswarapu, who is from Singapore and India, said that she thought participating in the program would be a good way to get exposure to American lifestyle and Galesburg.
“Coming from thousands of miles away, it’s basically a home away from home and they’ll be there if we ever need someone to fall back on. I’m looking forward to getting to know my family more, and exploring Galesburg more. They actually gave me a tour of Galesburg and showed me a few Indian stores here,” Yeleswarapu said.
Several international students said that they hoped to gain a local support system by participating in the program.
“I surely recommend other international people to participate in this program because you need some form of familial support, especially since you’re so far away from home,” Luong said.