Spring is a time of year for new beginnings, but for some international students spring is a time to say goodbye to their host school. On April 26, there was a farewell party in Jensen dining hall for international students and their friendly families. The friendly family program pairs international students and American families for a year. The program is offered to Wilson international students and allows them the opportunity to safely experience American culture.
Director of International Student and Scholar Services (I.S.S.S.) Paul Miller and his wife enjoy traveling abroad. Their personal travelling experiences gave Mr. Miller insight into the Friendly Family program. He said the program is valuable for students who come from different countries.
“When I traveled with my wife, visiting in the homes of persons living in the country in which we were visiting was the highlight of our travels. By socializing with the locals, we began to understand the people more than watching their movies or listening to their music or reading what other people have to say about them,” said Miller.
For this reason, he feels Wilson internationals will better understand Americans if they develop friendships with Americans.
It also gives new opportunities to American families.
“The best point of this program is having the chance to share our lives with our new friends and to learn about other cultures that differ from ours,” said Beth Stephey, who is a friendly family member of Seunghee Cho. “We have met wonderful people as a result of this program.”
The goals of the program include meeting the international students’ emotional needs while they are far from home. The American particpants offer supportive roles to the students they host.
“We understand the importance of knowing you have someone who cares about you when you are away from home. It is important for parents too who have children so far away from them,” said Stephey. “I can understand that because I have a daughter. Her school is far away from my house. We are honored to have this opportunity.”
Stephey hopes to stay connected with her friendly family students through their lives. She plans to visit her friendly family student from last year, Gemma, who lives in Ireland, and meet with her family.
The program originated sometime in the 1990s. The Friendly Family program has 20 to 25 American families currently participating and almost 95 percent of all internationals choose to be partnered with one of these families. “I spent last Christmas season with my friendly family. It was a totally new experience for me, because in Korea, we usually do not celebrate Christmas like in American ways,” said Seunghee Cho, who is an exchange student from South Korea.
“I think I will never forget all memories with Beth and Dave. I am really sad because I will leave Chambersburg soon. But I hope it is not an eternal farewell with my friendly family,” said Cho.