The Friends to International Students program (FIS) is dedicated to building friendships between OU’s international students and families from the local community. Arriving on campus can be overwhelming and perhaps a little intimidating for the over 2,000 international students on campus who are far away from their homes and families. FIS is designed to ease this transition and to build cross-cultural friendships. Families are encouraged to meet with their assigned student (or students) at least once a month to do something fun, such as going out to eat, attending a basketball game, touring around downtown OKC, spending a holiday together, taking in a concert, hiking, going to a movie, etc. The possibilities are endless!
Stephanie Sager, Program Assistant and Event Coordinator with the Department of International and Area Studies (IAS), is serving as a host for the second year and this time she has been assigned two students. “I started working in IAS last year, and I wanted to find a way to get more involved with the college and the university,” she said. “I previously worked for a mentoring nonprofit, so I understand the importance of ‘being there’ for someone.”
Pauline, Michaela and Roosa are her FIS students – Pauline is from France, Michaela from Austria and Roosa from Finland. Stephanie says the students are excited about experiencing American holidays, especially Thanksgiving. Some upcoming activities they have planned to do together include hiking, trips to sporting events and local museums, cooking and of course shopping. Stephanie also thinks it would be fun to show them around Bricktown, swing by Wheeler Park to see the Ferris wheel and maybe even have a picnic. The students have also been doing some traveling across the United States too – San Francisco, Las Vegas and Miami along with some upcoming trips to New Orleans and Chicago. Stephanie loves that “they all have such a wonderful spirit of adventure.”
When asked what things her students are curious about regarding American culture, Stephanie explained, “they wonder what American cheese slices are supposed to be, and are just as puzzled about food portion sizes and the obsession with sports in the US.” And Stephanie said this experience “challenges me to think about what it means to be an American, and to examine things that I haven’t always questioned in the past. When the conversation turns to global issues, I am always surprised by how informed they are about our political system and its players, so it’s inspired me to learn more about their countries’ issues and their political leaders.”
Stephanie has enjoyed being a host mom and friend to her new “daughters,” stating “it’s a great feeling to help someone get adjusted to a new culture and just be there for them when they need to talk.” Sometimes Stephanie thinks she gets more out of knowing them than the other way around – although she hopes that they are having fun with her too. “These students are smart, curious and adventurous, and they broaden your horizons as well as give you a thirst for travel. It’s fun to share a little piece of Oklahoma with them while learning more about their lives, so if you’re thinking about being an FIS sponsor just DO IT!”
If you want to learn more about FIS or sign up to be a host, visit http://www.ou.edu/cis/sponsored_programs/fis.html or contact International Program Coordinators Megan Reeves and Mary Beth Polk.