Program links new international students with community members
September 18, 2012Tweet
The Office of International Student and Scholar Services is working to connect new international students and community members through its Friendship Family Program.
Formed more than 30 years ago, the program allows “friendship families” from Binghamton University or the community to help international students adapt to their new surroundings.
“Our Friendship Family Program is not a hosting program,” said SEVIS Operations Assistant Katie Barvinchak, who helps operate the program with ISSS Assistant Director Shawna Szabo. “It’s a social relationship. That could be sharing a meal, talking on the phone, e-mailing, going grocery shopping or going to the movies together. We leave it up to them. We provide the initial contact between family and student, and let them take it from there.”
Most of the students who take part in the program come from countries where the University draws most of its international scholars: China, India and South Korea. International students receive an e-mail about the program before they even arrive on campus, Barvinchak said.
ISSS reaches out to local religious institutions to help promote the program to community members, she added. Information about the program has also traveled by word of mouth.
“If you know someone who is part of the program and is mentoring a student and who has had a good experience, there will be a domino effect,” Barvinchak said.
Application forms for both students and prospective “friendship families” are found at http://www2.binghamton.edu/isss/new-students/friendship-family-program/friendfam.html and can be submitted at any time of the year.
“Our goal is to match everyone who has applied and requested a student, or vice versa,” said Barvinchak, who added that the connections could last a semester, a year or multiple years.
The biggest challenge for new international students is becoming familiar with a new culture and customs, Barvinchak said.
“In America, you are expected to tip if you go to a restaurant,” she said. “Someone coming to the United States may not know little things like that. Little bits of information like that are great for friendship families to introduce students to.”
Some families and students meet for the first time at the annual International Student Welcoming Dinner, which is held before the fall semester begins. Families and students also participate in a pizza and game night that is held in late October or early November.
Barvinchak said she hopes that more events on and off campus can help the program continue to grow and allow community members to make a difference in students’ lives.
“The best outcome is doing a lot of activities together, but it could be as simple as talking on the phone and introducing students to the area,” she said. “I think families take part because they want to learn something new. It is a great opportunity to learn about someone who is not from this country. It’s a teaching moment: talking someone under your wing and helping them succeed and overcome loneliness.”