When University of Mary Washington junior Lindsay Scott returned from studying abroad, she immediately wanted to change the foreign exchange program on campus. After spending two semesters in Spain immersed in a new culture, she sympathized with some of the struggles that foreign students face at UMW.
“I recalled how in past years, many international students could often be found hanging out with other international students,” Scott said. “After being in their shoes last year, I understand the inclination to seek out the familiar in an unfamiliar place.”
Although much planning goes into the foreign exchange programs, little thought went into what occurs after the actual arrival.
As a result, new questions tend to arise, such as how to get around in a foreign country, how to make friends from a different culture and where to hang out on the weekends.
Scott spent last year in Bilbao, Spain at the Universidad de Duesto studying Spanish cooking and Basque culture, even taking a class called Siesta 101.
“The program staff at Duesto were vital in helping us adapt to living abroad,” Scott said.
Her positive experience in Spain led her to make a change in the UMW foreign exchange program to help newcomers feel more welcome.
While home in North Carolina, Lindsay learned about the International Friendship Program (IFP) currently in use at North Carolina State. The program helps exchange students get involved in campus activities and learn more about American culture by pairing them with a student at their newfound university.
Scott took the idea of the International Friendship Program and brought it to UMW.
“Both myself and the International Academic Services (IAS) office staff worked to let the international students know about this opportunity and to recruit enthusiastic UMW students as their American companions,” Scott said.
Scott hopes this program will have the same type of effect at UMW as it does at North Carolina State.
“I realized IFP could be implemented here and could make a world of difference to the study abroad experience of Mary Wash’s international students, and maybe even to us Americans as well,” she said.
One regulation of the IFP is that each friend pair must meet a minimum of once a month. But already in its first semester of implementation, many more group outings have been planned like Monday night bowling, ice skating and a day hike in the Shenendoah valley.
Foreign exchange student Ricky Chen from Hong Kong, says China is one of the participants in the IFP. He says that he and his friend spend time together several times a week and have various activities planned for the coming weeks, including a trip to New York over fall break.
Chen says that the program helps foreign students get involved and would recommend it to anyone considering studying abroad.
“It’s not to say that students not in this program would make no friends. That’s definitely not true. But it will enrich the experience,” Chen said.
There are currently 35 foreign exchange students at UMW. Eventually Scott hopes to have 100% of international students who study at UMW involved in this program.
“International students attend an Orientation week much like freshmen do when they arrive, and the IAS office is continually assisting them throughout the year,” Scott said. “But the International Friendship Program adds a new dimension to these students’ experience in the U.S. that wasn’t here before.”