Making a new place feel like home is one of the many challenges students face upon coming to college. For international students living thousands of miles from their hometowns, that challenge is even greater. Augustana’s Friendship Family program, sponsored by the International Programs Office (IPO), aims to change that.
“The purpose of the program is to provide students with a connection in the community outside of campus,” international student advisor Roseanne Reinartz said. “A lot of college students, but especially international students, miss that family-life experience in college.”
An international student can apply to the program at any time during their exchange and be matched with a family in Sioux Falls.
Families can apply to be part of the program by contacting the IPO and filling out a questionnaire regarding basic issues such as the number of people in the household, whether or not the family has any pets, interests and community involvement.
Students fill out a similar questionnaire with their interests and preferences, and from there, the IPO staff uses the information to match each student with a family.
Most Friendship Families have some connection to Augustana before meeting their student, whether they are staff, alumni or the parents of current students or alumni.
“My daughter Heather went to Augie, and she was an international ambassador, so she asked if we would sponsor someone, and we were more than willing to do that,” Sioux Falls resident Karen Jordan said.
Karen Jordan’s family sponsors Cathrine Brendstuen, an international student from Norway currently completing her last semester at Augustana.
Brendstuen became friends with Heather Jordan during her first year at Augustana, and once Heather found out Cathrine was looking for a Friendship Family, everything fell into place.
“They’ve made me feel at home, and I know that if I have any problems or if I get sick, I can always call them and rely on them to be there,” Brendstuen said. “It’s very much like a family who I know will always be there for me. It’s comforted my parents a lot to know that I have people in the U.S. who will help me out.”
International students meet with their Friendship Families two to three times a month on average. Families will invite their students over for home-cooked meals, offering the students the opportunity to experience American food and, in some cases, allowing the family to experience the student’s traditional meals.
“My mom came down after Christmas last year and they made some traditional Norwegian baked goods together, sandbakkels and krumkake,” Karen Jordan said. “On another occasion, Cathrine made a traditional meal for us with a special rice that her parents shipped back from Norway.”
Brendstuen has joined her family for Thanksgiving dinners, family vacations and weddings, even participating as the maid of honor in Heather Jordan’s wedding.
“It’s a great honor to have known someone for two years and have them ask you to be their maid of honor,” Brendstuen said. “Not to mention it was also a very interesting way to see another part of American culture—the craziness of weddings.”
Families of all sizes participate in the program. Fedi Mejri, an international student from Tunisia, was paired with Tim Binder and Erin Larsen, a recently married couple. The couple hosted an international student from Bangladesh last year and are currently getting to know Mejri. The three have cooked dinner together on several occasions and hope to get out and experience Sioux Falls more in the future.
“It’s really nice to learn about other cultures and how they’re similar and different,” Larsen said.
“I want to encourage other international students to apply for a Friendship Family,” Mejri said. “It’s a fun way to discover American culture, especially when we are confined to campus without cars or other transportation. If you have a Friendship Family, it’s a great way to establish those connections and make friends you might have for a lifetime.”