SIOUX CENTER â For international students at the University of Dordt, it can be difficult to be so far from home and family, but the university’s International Friendship Family program seeks to associate its international students with families. who can spend time with them and provide a home away from home.
According to Dordt’s Global Education Coordinator, Rebecca Tervo, the program associated 26 students with 16 families. Although some host families are Dordt employees, the program is not exclusive to Dordt employees.
âThis program is optional for international students, so those who apply really want to get to know a local family,â Tervo said.
Tervo added that Dordt has four international students who would like to be part of the program, but more families are needed to enroll. Anyone interested in serving as a host family can contact Tervo at [email protected]
Families are invited to meet with the student at least once a month. What they do together is up to them. It is common to share a home cooked meal, do community activities like pumpkin picking, attend student music or sports activities, or invite them to participate in things like Christmas decorating.
As Tervo explained, the program aims to give the international student a chance to experience American life with a family, give host families a chance to get to know an international student, and bring greater cultural awareness in the community.
Andres Guzman, 20, has participated in the International Friendship Family program. Now in his second semester of study while pursuing a degree in civil engineering, Guzman is from Bogota, Colombia.
Being separated from his family was not something that worried him before he moved, but homesickness still came.
He got involved through a friend who was helping another friend involved in the International Friendship Family program and started spending time with the host family, Ang and Matt Van Essen. Ang is a student services assistant at Dordt.
âThey started having him at their house, having dinner together and going to church together. He took me and I would be part of the plans, so we got really close, âGuzman said.
Guzman joined the program and was greeted by the Van Essens. They shared meals at their Sioux Center home and did a variety of activities together, including board games, video games, and a trip to Colorado this fall. The main thing they do, however, is talk, which Guzman enjoys.
Guzman has found himself acting as a sort of advocate for the International Friendship Family program, as he has benefited from his time so far.
âAt first I wasn’t interested in starting a family because I was so focused on myself and my studies that I thought I didn’t have time. I was not interested. But it was an experience, âhe said.
Guzman feared it would take too long to be involved with a foster family.
âI thought it wasn’t for me, but now whenever I get the chance I tell my friends they should do it,â he said.
The main thing he gained from his time in the International Friendship Family program was mentors for his spiritual and academic life. Although he was of Catholic origin, he did not think much of the faith.
âI wasn’t born into a Christian background, so they gave me a different perspective on what it means to live as a Christian. It has been such a blessing, âsaid Guzman. âThe Van Essens have been such a blessing in so many ways. They have helped us with college stuff and our personal, social and spiritual lives.
According to Matt, the blessings have been mutual as they have been part of the International Friendship Family program for three years. In addition to Guzman, they have teamed up with students from Honduras and other Dordt friends from Brazil, Germany and Africa.
âIt adds a lot of life to our family and for our kids it’s great to have older kids to look up to,â Matt said.
It has been great learning about other cultures, he added, and becoming more aware of American culture while helping these students adapt.
âWe were able to connect with their families and get to know their parents a bit,â Matt said. âOne in particular, their parents came to visit us and they stayed with us for a few weeks. We really got to know them well and spent a lot of time with them.
The program has an impact on students that lasts a lifetime; at least in one case, a former international student even became a host family later in life.
Jason Wyenberg, now an assistant professor of engineering and physics, came from his home in Winnipeg, Canada to study at Dordt from 2002 to 2006.
âIt was really nice to feel that there was a community outside of Dordt that we could be involved with and get to know and with home cooked meals,â said Wyenberg.
It was with these memories in mind that he and his wife, Dani, decided to pass on the blessings as hosts.
Their family enjoyed hosting the students for meals and attending their activities, but talking with the students and learning more about them and their backgrounds is a highlight.
âOne of my fondest memories is going out for coffee with one of the students for the first time,â said Wyenberg. âWe talked for about two hours about his background. He comes from Honduras and is part of the Dordt football team. It was great getting to know him a little more.