Local residents are invited and encouraged to connect with international students at Missouri University of Science and Technology through the university’s International Friends Program. Missouri S&T’s office of international affairs sponsors this program, which allows community members to share American culture and customs with S&T students from other cultures.
This year’s reception, where students will be introduced to their possible community friends, will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, at the Southwestern Bell Cultural Center, located at 1207 N. Elm St.
“The program celebrates the cultural diversity in the Rolla area and is a way to foster long-term relationships between students and community members,” says program coordinator Roberta Morgan.
The International Friends Program gives Rolla residents a chance to befriend international students and introduce them to national and local customs. A local resident may enroll in the program and be designated as a “friend” to an assigned international student. As a friend, the local resident encourages the student’s involvement in local activities, explains the significance behind holidays and customs, or helps with shopping for practical items.
“This program is all about being a mentor to whom international students can ask questions,” says Morgan. “Community friends are volunteers and therefore do not pay a program fee, nor are they expected to financially help the student. Additionally, monthly meetings are typical, but friends and students choose times and activities based on their availability. The time commitment that the resident and student decide upon can last for a specific period of time or until the student leaves Missouri S&T.”
Community members are matched with an international student based on the results of questionnaires each party completes.
“Involvement in the International Friends Program leads to a better understanding of other cultures as well as a deeper understanding of the participants’ native country and themselves,” says Morgan. “Participation gives international students a chance to use English in a casual setting, which helps them improve their conversation skills.”
Ross Haselhorst, director of the Video Communications Center at Missouri S&T and a long time participant in the program, says friends involved with the program are “closer [to the student] than their mom or dad – they’ll talk to you like a parent, but will tell you more. You’re a parent surrogate plus best friend.”
Haselhorst has made many long-lasting friendships over the years with international students and has even gone to China to visit them. “The reward for the host is that you can become so close that you really see that all the differences, such as age and culture, are nothing compared to what you have in common,” Haselhorst says.
For more information regarding this program, email Rebecca Holmes, student assistant and event organizer, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact the Missouri S&T office of international affairs at 573-341-4208.