UNI helps create international friendships

There are nearly 500 international students enrolled at the University of Northern Iowa, representing 77 countries around the world. Hosting an international student can be a great opportunity -- one that can have a huge impact on both the host and the student.

Loyce Barbosa riding an ATV on the Tiemessem farm

Linda Tiemessen hosted Loyce Barbosa, a student from Brazil,
for a day last summer. Barbosa enjoyed riding the ATV on the
Tiemessem farm, eating grilled pork and going to the 4H fair.

UNI offers Cedar Valley residents the opportunity to participate in two main international student programs as part of the International Friendship Program. These programs include the International Services Office Family Friendship Program, for academic students, and the Culture and Intensive English Program (CIEP) Family Friendship Program, for English-language students.

Duane and Joan Wessels, residents of Cedar Falls, have played an active role as hosts in the Family Friendship Program for more than twenty years. Through this, they have learned many things about international students.

"We have a conservative and Christian household," said Duane. "But we have learned not to impose these values, and other parts of U.S. culture, on the students."

The Wessels have taken their international students on many trips throughout the years, welcoming and immersing them in a completely different culture. "Snowboarding is a huge eye-opener for most of our students, as many of them come from countries with a hotter climate," noted Duane.

Linda Tiemessen is also heavily involved in the Family Friendship program, hosting international students for the past two years.

"The students become a part of your family," said Tiemessen. "It's a chance to see the world through their eyes without the expense and time of actually traveling to those countries."

Tiemessen enjoys taking her students to the Iowa State Fair and the Meskwaki Pow Wow, as they represent traditional Iowa culture. Another common request by students is to visit the Mall of America in Minnesota.

UNI's largest international student groups come from Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, India and Japan. These students become very involved in every part of campus, including student government, honor societies, athletics, clubs and much more.

Nadia Korobova is the assistant director of international programs at UNI. Fifteen years ago, however, she was randomly assigned a host family when she first came to UNI as an international student. She remembers cooking meals, celebrating holidays and attending cultural events with her host mom. "She has truly become a second mother to me," said Korobova. "My experience in Iowa, and the U.S. in general, wouldn't have been the same without her."

Mang Kang dying Easter eggs

So Mang Kang, a student from South Korea,
stayed with Tiemessen last summer.

The International Friendship Program strives to promote cultural exchange between international students and American host families. The program has been a highlight for many of UNI's international students, and has also been rewarding for the families who open their lives to these students.

"Through this program, my daughters have developed great close relationships with her new 'brothers and sisters' from all over the world," said Duane.

The UNI International Friendship Program provides a home away from home for many international students each year. From this experience, international students learn what it's like to be an American, and develop long-lasting relationships with new friends across the globe.

For more information on how to become a host family or apply for a host family, please contact Ross Schupbach, international student advisor for UNI's International Services, at ross.schupbach@uni.edu or Sally Roos, activities coordinator for UNI's Culture and Intensive English Program, at sally.roos@uni.edu.