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In the News: 'Foreign Students Finding 'Family' at Augie'

The following article appears in the August 9, 2011, issue of the Argus Leader:

Foreign Students Finding 'Family' at Augie
Programs open doors to welcoming homes in S.F.

By Jessica Kokesh, Argus Leader Media

There are some things only a family can do for you.

But when you're an international student and your family is an ocean away, sometimes someone else has to step in.

Augustana College offers two programs to ease its international students into American life and give them a Sioux Falls-based family all their own.

The Host Family and Friendship Family programs have become "an important part of the way we welcome international students," said Don Grinager, director of Augustana's International Programs office.

Learn more about international student enrollment at Augustana and find details about how to become a Host Family or a Friendship Family.

"It's a great way to get to know somebody over a period of time," he said. "Both these programs use the word 'family' in theme, but we have had young single people, we've had empty nesters, we've had grandparents... It's an inclusive term of the American family."

Grinager said he expects 105 students from 30 countries once the fall semester begins - the highest number the school has had since he began working there 19 years ago.

Part of the reason for the surge in international students in the past two years has been increased resources for the International Programs department, Grinager said, which has made it easier to recruit students.

"We're interested in having a more diverse student body, of having representatives from different cultures, political systems and values on campus," he said.

But with the Host and Friendship Family programs, the learning can extend off-campus as well.

A student involved in the Host Family Program would stay at a local family's home in the weeks before moving in to Augustana on Aug. 28. Host families and students can choose to extend their relationship with the Friendship Family Program. Families do not have to house a student but simply invite them along to family activities or dinner a few times a month.

Meshri Abd El Koudouss, a Fulbright Scholar from Mauritania, Africa, has been involved with Friendship Family Program for a year and says "it's the best thing I have in Sioux Falls."

"I basically have a family," he said. "I feel like I'm home."

Abd El Koudouss' "Sioux Falls mom," Janet Blank-Libra said her family is "happy to be a family for him while he's here."

"We'll miss him horribly when he returns to Africa," she said. "He considers our daughter to be his sister."

Blank-Libra, an English and journalism professor at Augustana, said her family decided to become involved with the Family Friendship Program to get to know international students better. She said her family has learned "so much" from Abd El Koudouss - and he's learned from them.

"I was freezing when it was like September," he said. "They got me jackets and snow boots and were teaching me all the things I was supposed to know (about snow)."

Blank-Libra said her family always has fun when they share meals with Abd El Koudouss, who is studying economics at Augustana.

"The world gets smaller and bigger at the same time," she said. "We'd love to meet his family. I've told him, 'I'd like to tell your mother a thing or two,' a few times."
 

Pictured Above: Augustana international students pose by the Ole the Viking statue in Fall 2010.