Many Global UGRAD host universities provide amazing opportunities for Global UGRAD students to engage with their host communities. One such example are friendship family programs, where international students are paired with local families for an exchange of culture, friendship, and fun. Please continue reading to hear more about the positive impact these types of exchanges have on both student and family.
Where to begin to express how much of a blessing it was for our family to get to know Sarah as an exchange student while she attended Illinois State University. My husband and I (and now our three children) have been involved in Illinois State University’s Friendship Family program for many years and we enjoy meeting students from all over the world. There is something special about inviting someone into your home to share food and home comforts, all while learning a new culture. We have discovered continually that while we do learn greatly from each student we host, we always are amazed at how many similarities we also share. What started as an opportunity to extend hospitality to a newly arrived exchange student from Jordan became a friendship that we are certain will last a lifetime. Sarah once introduced me to her roommate, “This is my host mom, well sister…,” and I explained I am sort of both. We can talk and shop together like sisters, and I make sure she is healthy and well fed like a mother. Our children (ages 6, 3 and 2) adored having there new “big sister” visit often and play with them as one of the family. Opportunities for exchange students to visit new places, meet new people, and have unique experiences. Sarah was able to experience our community’s annual “Gator Ride” where we ride ATV’s on trails through forest and pasture near our home—taking in all the beauty of Central Illinois in autumn. One memory that will always warm my heart is when I remember Sarah’s second visit to our house. As she walked into our house she said with a sigh, “Home.” International student exchange has allowed our family the opportunity to establish close ties around the world. Sarah will always be our student, our daughter, our sister, and our friend.
Written by Erica, Sarah’s friendship family mother at Illinois State University
I still remember the day I arrived to the U.S. for the first time. I was exhausted after the long trip yet very excited and curious to start exploring. What made me even more excited was that I would be staying at a friendship family’s house for a night then move into the university dorms the next day. This sweet family consists of two parents – David and Erica – who are too young to be called my host parents, but they definitely took care of me as such. And three little angels – Josiah, Jonan, and Emily. The first time I met Erica was when she came to pick me up from another friendship family’s house as that family picked me up from the airport. From the moment,we met, we talked a lot about different topics. She gave me a tour around campus, told me about what it was like for her to study abroad in England, and we had a nice meal together. Once we arrived at their house, I still remember how David and the kids came out to welcome me and how they greeted me very warmly. Jonan and Josiah held my hands casually and took me inside the house saying: “Let’s play together! We’ve been waiting for you all day!” That’s how I met the Steffens, who soon became my second family.
After the move-in day, we kept meeting whenever we had time. As this was not their first time hosting an international student, therefore, they had ideas of activities which would be interesting for an exchange student and I had many unique experiences I couldn’t have experienced if it wasn’t for them. My favorite one was the “Gator Ride”, where we went out to see the beautiful colors of fall. After that we had a great potluck at a fire station, and I got my first ride on a fire truck! Other memorable experiences were seeing a lot of Steffens family pictures they kept in an old cabinet, going to see animals at a farm, going to church together and seeing how baptism is performed in the apostolic church for the first time, cooking for the first time in their house for a cultural event, and listening to how David played the bagpipes! There are many more wonderful memories that helped me learn more about the American lifestyle in Central Illinois.
I cannot forget the time my friend said: “I met your brother (Josiah) today, Sarah!” That made me realize how close our relationship was and I could see that not only me, but also all my friends loved the kids and looked forward to meeting them whenever they had the chance. I think I was very lucky and blessed to have such a beautiful family in my life abroad. They took good care of me and I never felt that I was alone throughout my whole stay in America. They were very considerate and genuinely caring. It was really comforting to have a place I could call home that I could go to and de-stress from my hectic college life. I am very grateful for all they did for me and all the kind and encouraging words that they always told me. I am more than glad that we are still in touch even after I have left the U.S., and I will always pray for their health and happiness.
Written by Sarah Najem, 2018-19 Global UGRAD student from Jordan studying at Illinois State University