International Friendship Program
Many internationals come to the U.S. hoping not only to gain an academic degree but also to experience American culture. They know that the best way to have an insider’s view of American and to enjoy the good things that America has to offer is to make American friends. Unfortunately, many find that making friends with Americans is not as easy as it sounds.
An International Friendship Program (IFP) can serve to bridge the gap between internationals and Americans. In a very intentional way, we can pair internationals with Americans who have an interest, and the time, to build friendships with them.
Some general guidelines as you begin:
- You will need to recruit someone to oversee the matching of Americans with internationals.
- It will be necessary to publicize your IFP with both internationals and Americans. Internationals can be contacted by posting this activity on your website, by sending an e-mail to international student organizations and by utilizing word-of- mouth. To find Americans, visit student and community groups and local churches. Remember that a wide variety of people can be involved, including housewives and retirees.
- When making pairings for the IFP, always match men with men and women with women. This prevents anyone from mistaking the IFP for a dating service.
- Plan for IFP commitments to last one school year. Particular pairings may continue to meet for more than a year, but most will not continue.
- Typically, more internationals will be available than Americans. Thus, we recommend that you first recruit Americans and then you will know how many internationals can be involved. This approach will spare internationals from waiting many weeks while you try to find partners for them.
Some suggested instructions for your American and international participants:
- Ask partners to contact each other within a week of receiving their contact information.
- Ask each pair to meet at least once a month for some type of activity. Their activities need not require that they spend any money, but they are free to do so if they choose.
- Remind both parties to be careful to respect each others beliefs, values and customs.
- Suggest that when a pair first meets the participants can spend time getting to know one another. They can discuss each other’s families, hometowns, interests and hobbies. They can also talk about how the American came to live in the town, and how the international chose this particular university.
- Remind both parties that friendships take effort. Both the American and the international should think about ways to develop this new friendship.
- Again, the IFP commitment between the two parties is expected to last until the end of the current school year unless either person must quit for some unexpected reason.
Friendship activities might include:
- 1. Playing basketball together (or some other sport)
- 2. Visiting local coffee shops for coffee/tea
- 3. Sharing family photos with each
- 4. Having lunch together (bring your own, or buy)
- 5. Entertaining the other person in one’s home–for a meal or just to visit
- 6. Attending an event together on campus
- 7. Introducing the other person to friends
- 8. Celebrating holidays
A word on evangelism:
When new Americans get involved, explain to them that even though you are a Christian group, the IFP exists not only for the purpose of sharing the gospel but also for providing genuine relationships for international students. International students will join the IFP for the sake of friendship, so we need to provide true friendship. Of course, people who have a healthy relationship should always feel free to talk about many topics – including personal religious beliefs. We must have the attitude that we will demonstrate Christ’s love to our international friends regardless of their interest in spiritual matters. Tell your American participants that if their friendship partner expresses no interest in talking about Jesus or the Bible, that’s fine-just be a great friend and pray regularly for the international.
Tell your American participants that if any of their international friends have legal questions or financial troubles, they should be directed to the international student office on campus. The folks in that office generally have experience in handling a wide variety of difficult issues, and they know what resources are available. Urge Americans not to become involved in helping internationals with immigration issues unless they are trained in this aspect of the law. Also urge Americans to be careful of financial involvement, unless they are able to draw appropriate boundaries.