By SARA GIBONEY
KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s International Friendship Program offers more than just friendship to international students and area families and individuals.
“The purpose of the program is to give the students an opportunity to experience American culture and American family life, and to have an American family or individual to spend time with,” said Bonnie Payne, International Education Outreach Coordinator. “It gives them an opportunity to share their culture, to get off campus and into the community, and it helps the students to be able to practice their English conversation skills.”
The International Friendship Program connects international students with Kearney-area families or individuals for the purpose of communication, cultural sharing and enjoying activities together.
“People who participate in this program find it to be so heartwarming and so rewarding to spend time with the students,” Payne said.
The program is open to anyone in the community – retired couples, families with children, individuals, young professionals, empty nest couples.
Participants are asked to commit to the program for one year. But many, Payne said, stay connected with students throughout their stay in the United States.
“The families or individuals who are most successful are the ones that don’t try to think of activities to entertain their international students, they are the ones who just include the student with their family activities,” Payne said.
“It’s great for families or individuals to just invite the student into their homes for meals and games or to experience holiday traditions.”
Don and Jodi Daily of Kearney have been involved with the International Friendship Program for over six years. They typically invite their students over for dinner, play games at their home, celebrate holidays together and invite the students to family reunions.
“We have learned to cook some of their foods and enjoy showing them how to prepare American dishes,” Jodi Daily said. “We have gone bowling, to movies and played miniature golf. We enjoy showing them the cranes and going to the different parks and recreation areas that are around Kearney.”
Families who participate often find the experience to expand their knowledge of the world, Payne said.
“We enjoy the program because it is great to learn about the students’ homelands, their cultures and then watching them as they learn and get more comfortable with our culture,” Daily said.
Ruinan Yu of China met the Daily family during the fall semester in 2015.
“We usually meet each other on the weekends and holidays,” she said. “They are so kind and warmhearted. They taught me how to play American table games. We went to the park together if we had lovely weather.”
Yu said the Dailys help her with her English, teach her how to cook American food and educate her about American sports. “My parents also are grateful for them,” Yu said. “I have enjoyed this program.”
Payne said the program allows students to experience American culture and customs in a family setting, which helps them gain an understanding of American culture more quickly. Students can also learn English in a safe and comfortable setting.
“International students are often afraid to speak English because they’re not sure if they’re saying things correctly. Spending time with families or individuals in the program gives them practice so they’re confident and comfortable with their English. It’s really a good supplement to our English Language Institute program.”
About 50 percent of the international students at UNK participate in the International Friendship Program, which began at UNK in the 1980s.
To apply to become a host family or individual, go to http://www.unk.edu/international/friendship-program/
The International Friendship Program is a visitation program, not a home-stay program.
Source: Bonnie Payne, 308.865.8939, firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: Sara Giboney, 308.865.8529, email@example.com