For many college students, adjusting to life in a new town may not be an easy task, but an adjustment to campus life can prove to be especially difficult when your family and friends are miles away from Muncie.
However, for some international students, the transition has become a little easier with the help of the Friendship Family program offered through the Rinker Center for International Programs.
The Friendship Family Program connects international students with an American family to help the student adjust to life in Muncie. While students do not live with their host families, and families are not responsible for supporting their students financially, families that are involved in the program are required to meet up with their student once a month for an activity.
According to Friendship Family program coordinator Hope Covington, the program helps students find extra support as they adjust to life in a new country.
“International students have told me that they truly feel like members of the family,” Covington said. “They told me that they feel like they belong and that having a friendship family makes them feel more comfortable and supported in a country that is foreign to them.”
The program is open to anyone 18-years-old and older who resides near Muncie. A wide variety of family structures — single people, married couples and couples with children — make up the Friendship Families program. Many of the families involved are from the United States, but there are also families that are from other countries as well.
Graduate applied behavior analysis student Christine Munsell was looking for a way to connect with campus and community when she moved to Muncie from her hometown of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. It wasn’t long until she got an email looking for people in the community to volunteer to be involved with the program for the upcoming semester.
“I was also just looking for [someone] to call part of a family far from home,” Munsell said.
Later in the semester, Munsell was matched with a fellow graduate student Justine Waluvengo, who is originally from Kakamega, Kenya. For Waluvengo, building a friendship family with Munsell was a way for her to build a connection with someone outside of her school schedule.
“I’m out here from my family and friends back home. I just wanted to be a part of a group of people that would make me feel at home,” Waluvengo said.
Munsell and Waluvengo said this experience has allowed them to learn from each other’s respective cultures, but they also built an instant friendship bonding over a mutual love for ice cream and Thai food and their shared sense of humor.
“With Christine, we just have so much in common,” Waluvengo said. “We have really come to form this type of friendship that’s so powerful.”
Friendship Families are required to meet up with students once a month. However, Covington has found that in the past, families have built relationships far beyond the program itself.
“Even after the student returns to their home country, they stay in touch through email and social media and sometimes families even travel to visit their students in their home countries,” Covington said.
Munsell likes the flexibility of the program. It’s allowed her and Waluvengo to get out and experience places around Muncie.
“You find your family member and you kind of do whatever you want to do,” Munsell said. “No commitments.”
Munsell and Waluvengo’s relationship has stretched beyond just meeting up once a month. Waluvengo said she appreciates having someone to call for anything. In fact, she said Munsell even took her to the doctor when she wasn’t feeling well.
“I called up Christine. Despite her having work to do, she drove me to a hospital,” Waluvengo said. “She is like my family now.”
Munsell, too, said the program gave her a deep relationship with someone she might not have met without the program. .
“It’s great to know you aren’t in your own boat struggling,” Munsell said. There’s someone to lean on who might need a shoulder to lean on, too.”
Covington strongly recommends both international students and Friendship Families become involved because she believes the program helps international students experience American culture while also giving host families a unique way to build meaningful relationships with people from different backgrounds.
Those looking to build their own Friendship Family, can visit The Rinker Center’s website for more information about how to get involved.
Contact Ally Johnson with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @IamAllyJ.