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Friendship Families Sought for International Students

When Augustana alumni Bryan and Becca Conner, class of 2005, heard about the opportunity to serve as a Friendship Family to an international student last summer, they jumped at the chance.

"As alumni, we were interested in getting involved with Augustana. We have always enjoyed learning about different cultures. When the opportunity to help out presented itself on Facebook, we considered the benefits of reaching out to an international student. Being able to provide a 'home' off campus was appealing to us," said Becca Conner.

The Conners served as a Friendship Family for Jhon Ramirez Arias, a junior Communications major from Costa Rica.

Later this summer, Sioux Falls-area families will again have the opportunity to learn about other cultures, languages and traditions as Augustana prepares to welcome international students from around the globe for the fall semester. The College is seeking area families to support its Friendship Family Program, a welcome initiative designed to provide a support network for these students.

The Friendship Family Program is designed to give a new student a family contact in Sioux Falls. The family does not provide lodging. Instead, the family makes a commitment to befriend a new student and to provide opportunities to have a home-cooked meal once or twice a month or to participate in various cultural or community activities throughout the year. The IPO is seeking 50 area families to participate in the Friendship Family Program, providing support to students from various countries around the world during the 2012-13 academic year.

Being a Friendship Family, Becca Conner said, was a rewarding experience.

Friendship Family Program

The Friendship Family Program is designed to give a new student a family contact in Sioux Falls. The family does not provide lodging. Instead, the family makes a commitment to befriend a new student and to provide opportunities to have a home-cooked meal once or twice a month or to participate in various cultural or community activities throughout the year. Learn more about being a Friendship Family. Contact the International Programs Office (IPO) or call 605.274.5050.

"He wanted to experience life in the U.S. and learn about our culture. We cooked him 'American' food and he cooked us Costa Rican cuisine. We did some activities that were common for us including birthday parties, holiday celebrations, navigating the corn maze, the symphony, and movies. He was able to get a glimpse of how we spend our time. We learned we are very similar people despite our difference in cultures."

It was also a chance to provide support for a young person.

"Initially, before [he] made friends on campus and before he learned about campus activities, he was feeling a little homesick. We were able to show him around and give him some sense of what Sioux Falls was like. He started partcipating in campus activities and became aquainted with many students that way. We attended some campus activities together. He had our cell phone and e-mail address and knew we were there for him if he needed some company," Becca said.   

Host Family Program

The Host Family program, in contrast to the Friendship Family program, offers a select group of students the opportunity to live with a family for two weeks prior to the start of classes. Activities are scheduled during the work week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m, Monday through Friday.  Families and students spend evenings and weekends together in normal, everyday family activities.

Beth MacDonald and her family participated in Augustana's Host Family Program, hosting Artyem Tsaturyan, a student from Armenia, during the 2011-12 academic year. She called the experience memorable and rewarding.

"I had always thought that it would be fun to host a foreign exchange student, but just never did it when we had kids living at home. After our kids were grown, I continued to think about it, but realized that I didn’t want the responsibility of hosting a high school student for a semester or school year," MacDonald said. "When I heard about the Augie Host Family program it sounded like the right fit. I also liked the idea of hosting an older student – we were more interested in making a new friend than taking on the job of parenting." 

In many ways, MacDonald said, Artyem became like part of the family.

"Our student was 'game' for anything! He had been dreaming of visiting America for most of his life. We included him in family events such as a Labor Day party at Lake Madison (where my husband taught him how to drive a jet ski and a boat); a Christmas Eve family gathering; and a family wedding. I always made sure that he knew that we wanted him to join us, but if he had other invitations or obligations, we would understand that he might want or need to do something else. Our student made friends on campus quickly and did a lot of traveling while in the U.S. He and two of his friends drove to Chicago over Thanksgiving break and traveled to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego over spring break. While we didn’t help with any of this, we certainly cheered him on! When my husband and I traveled we sent him postcards from different parts of the U.S., which he seemed to enjoy."

MacDonald recommends the experience to others.

"If you have ever thought about hosting an exchange student, but were afraid of a long commitment with a young student, the Augie Host Family Program would be a good fit for your family. You don’t have to parent – just be a concerned and helpful friend. Also, it’s only a two-week home stay (with optional invitations on your part to spend holidays and school breaks). And, the professional and helpful staff at Augustana will be around to answer your questions," she said. "Being a Host or Friendship Family is a great way to learn about the world. You will get to know your own student, but you may meet their friends from other countries as well. The Augie IPO office will invite you to take part in activities on campus where students give presentations about their home countries. It’s fun to hear what they have to say, it’s even more fun to see the support that the students give to one another. We really enjoyed having a reason to visit the College and get involved in Augie activities. Hosting a student makes a big world seem smaller. You may feel like you are helping out a student – and you are, but you may also be making a life-long friend who will be happy at some future date to show you the best their county has to offer."