International Friendship Family Program connects cultures

This fall, the SDSU International Affairs office started a program meant to make international students feel more at home. 

The International Friendship Family Program kicked off this fall. The program is a way for international students to receive more support from others in the community. Currently, the International Affairs office is accepting applications for both international students and host families. The program is free to both students and families who would like to participate.

 Host families and students are matched according to the preferences and interests listed on each application. Kirsten Linke, an international student adviser and program coordinator, will match applicants to families based on the similarities between applications.

 Linke believes the program will be a great way for students to become more involved and understand American culture.

 “Students are feeling … that they’re here to study but they aren’t getting immersed in the culture,” Linke said. 

Shahariar Rahman, an international student from Dhaka, Bangladesh and biochemistry major believes the program will be beneficial for students.

 “Life can be a bit easier if a family supports a student,” Rahman said. “It’s a great idea. Basically for an international student it’s a great mental support. Cultural exchanges can be made and students can better understand the attitude of American culture.”

 Linke said that the program will allow students who are involved the ability to begin understanding American culture better by becoming more involved and immersed in the American culture. Linke believes that it will also give students a better basis for marketing themselves for future employment.

 “They can improve English skills and understand the culture in America,” Linke said. “If they stay in the states after school they’ll be more marketable. They can relate to coworkers better than when they first arrived.”

 SDSU is not the first university to initiate a program such as the International Friendship Family Program. Similar programs run throughout the nation, including a Friendship Family Program at the School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City.

Jessica Addington, junior biology and pre-vet major said she thinks this program will be beneficial for everyone involved, especially International students.

 “Having that family direction and being engaged in the culture here in that kind of sense will help students to deter from the International student stereotype,” Addington said. “That kind of stereotype [they experience] is pretty negative from what I’ve heard and experienced. I think the family and culture integration will be a lot easier on them.” 

 Greg Wymer, director of International Students and Scholars, has worked with similar programs at Southwest Minnesota State and Moorhead University in Minnesota. Wymer said the programs were beneficial to students and communities where he was involved.

 Families acting as hosts for the program are not expected to house the student. Linke would like families to introduce students to American culture and traditions to let students have those “American” experiences including celebrating Thanksgiving around the dinner table or exchanging gifts for Christmas.

 Wymer’s family acted as a host family at both SMSU and Moorhead University. He said the program is a memorable experience and a great opportunity for both students and families.

  “If you do it right they really become a member of your family and you care about them and they care about you and it’s just a really great experience,” Wymer said. 

 The program has not only made a lasting impact on Wymer himself, but also his children.

 “My kids have always grown up with International students and having someone from a different culture,” Wymer said. “I think it’s really important for my kids and I think families in general. A lot of times we teach people to love others in spite of their differences, but I think it’s important that we teach our kids and our families and others to care about people for their differences.”

 Wymer says that after participating in the program, he finds that even his children treat the student as another member of the family by being engaging and outgoing with the student, rather than shying away.

Wymer said the culturally exchange will benefit both students and the Brookings community. 

It also gives students a family atmosphere despite far from home.  

“It makes all the difference for an international student because international students miss their families,” Wymer said. “If they can plug into a family here and someone become somewhat of a surrogate family for them and cares about them it makes all the difference in the world. Also, the friendships are lasting; many times the families stay connected with the student.”

 The program acts to bridge the divide between campus and the community. Wymer is excited to see where the program will take SDSU.

 “I always look forward to programs that are going to show international students how much we care about them not just as numbers,” Wymer said. “Numbers take care of themselves. It’s about creating an environment where students feel cared about.”

 This semester there are 672 international students from 79 countries attending SDSU. 

 “Culture is different, but human nature is the same,” Wymer said. “What we’re trying to do with the International Friendship Family Program is to break down barriers and to get people out of their comfort zone to really experience a new culture.”