Minnesota State graduate student Manidweep Sri Vidya wasn’t alone when he came to America for the first time. However, for some international students, they start this adventure without company.
In order to provide MSU’s international students with a group of people they can rely on, the Kearney International Center offers a Friendship Family Program (FFP) to build student and community connections.
Kearney International Center Retention Specialist Kristin Odland explained what she sees the goal as.
“The friendship family program exists to help create global connections between international students and local Mankato families.”
The program had a relaunch last January and has already made positive impacts on students’ lives.
“When you are an international student, when you’re away from your family, you need someone whom you can depend on,” Sri Vidya explained. “Not for everything, but a few things. When you’re mentally not strong here [because] you’re alone, I think it is very important to have someone like them who have the experience and can guide you.”
What pushed Odland to relaunch the program was a flood of requests, “I started hearing from families, student groups, and a couple different sources asking for it to be back. This office had been short staffed for a couple years and then the pandemic made it really challenging to create those matches.”
Sri Vidya was one of the students who participated in the program’s relaunch, and is still reaping the benefits, “We’re actually meeting very frequently. When I moved out from my place, they were the ones who came and helped me out.”
Currently , the program lasts a semester, Odland said.
“Right now, people can sign up to be part of it for a semester, though, like in Mani’s situation, his family is continuing.”
In order to match students and community volunteers, Odland has crafted a system. “I tried something new this spring where we offered an event where students and families could meet naturally, and if they found a pairing that worked, then I just made the match after that event.”
For those who don’t find the right match or are not able to attend the event, Odland makes matches based on information she gathers on applications, “I went through and people would list preferences on various things like pets and food and whatnot, and I would try to match families and students according to their preferences on the application.”
For those searching out connections provided by the FFP, applications can be found on the school’s website.
Sri Vidya encourages international students to take advantage of the opportunity.
“When you find a group of people like a family, which [the] University is able to provide you, it feels like home. They are very welcoming and they are open to everything. That’s the best thing that we can have when we are away from home.”
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