MANKATO — For years Minnesota State University’s population of international students has been steadily growing, and numerous programs are in place to help those students find their footing on campus.
One of those programs, which has been at MSU for almost 40 years, is the Friendship Families Program. Families in the surrounding community sign up to befriend (not host) an international student for a semester or two.
The program usually serves between 50 and 70 students, said Cita Maignes, international recruitment and retention specialist. But due to the unexpected influx in international students who are new to campus this year, Maignes said the need for families is greater.
Last year there were about 270 international students new to campus, said Doni M. Casula, assistant director of International Student and Scholar Services. This year there are about 320, which is a 19 percent increase and a campus record.
Maignes is estimating 80 or more students will be participating in Friendship Families, which aims to support international students during their period of adjustment in a new place. About 45 families have signed up.
“It’s a problem, but it’s a good problem to have,” Maignes said of the increased need.
The students’ academic responsibilities take up most of their time. But they also want to learn about U.S. culture firsthand, and their Friendship Family partners can help provide some of those experiences, Maignes said.
Families might invite their international student over for Thanksgiving dinner or day trips to museums or other cultural places. In turn, Maignes said, the students teach the families about their culture as well, and oftentimes, deep friendships are formed that last beyond the students’ time in Mankato.
“It’s an exchange of culture,” Maignes said.
Those interested have to fill out applications, and students do the same. Families are matched with students, and a potluck dinner will be held 6-8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, in the Student Union Ballroom where they will be introduced to each other.
“Then they will consider them as a member of their family for a semester,” Maignes said.
Maignes said she hears from students often that the program helped them. A collection of student comments are included about the program on the International Student and Scholar Services web page.
“Being in the family friendship program was a great experience for me,” wrote Sonia Zigre of the Ivory Coast. “I learned a lot from my family about the culture in the United States and they also learned about how life is in my country. I really enjoyed this wonderful experience.”
Maignes said the Mankato area has been supportive and generous to international students over the years.
“I’m so appreciative of the community,” she said. “They’ve been such a big help. Without them, this program will die.”
Those interested in participating but have conflicts this fall can sign up now for spring semester.
To sign up for fall or spring sememster, call Maignes at 389-1282 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Applications are available to download at http://www.mnsu.edu/international/ffp.html.