International Friendship Program Bridges Cultural Boundaries
Coffee chats, local dinners and cheering on the Kent State football team are just some of the things a student who is paired with a mentor can expect from the International Friendship Program.
The International Friendship Program pairs international students and scholars with Kent State faculty, staff and their families for the purpose of exchanging culture in a unique and fulfilling way, according to the Office of International Student Affairs. This program allows faculty and international students to converse and learn from each other, and it creates a welcoming environment for those who are far away from home.
“COVID-19 has greatly impacted the way we’ve all been interacting with each other,” Ash Mierau, interim director for the Office of International Student Affairs, said. “It is important we are still committed to our values of diversity and creating bonds with each other.”
This program has been available since 2014 and has been creating a lifetime of memories since. This program can last up to a full academic year, all depending on the length of the students’ programs. However, matches are encouraged to stay in contact beyond their time together.
“I’ve been a part of the International Friendship Program since 2016,” said Luke Armour, associate professor of public relations in the School of Media and Journalism. “Meeting international students and learning about their cultures and families is fascinating.”
Faculty and staff can sign up for the program at any time using the application and will be matched as soon as they are able to find an interested international student.
International students have their own application.
“I try to stay in touch a few times over the semester,” Armour said. “Even if it’s just for a cup of coffee or a meet-up at the library, letting them know I’m around if they have questions or concerns is also gratifying. I let them know they can reach out whenever they need to while they’re here.”
Some benefits of this program include participating in intercultural dialogue, creating a great experience in America for those far from home and building a life-long friendship.
“For an international student like me, it helps us learn local idioms and new cultural expressions that often don't find their way into textbooks and college classrooms,” said Muhammad Farooq, Ph.D. student in the English literature program. “It also acquaints us with the local resources, opportunities and gives us the confidence of having someone around that we could turn to when need be.”
Farooq has been in the program since 2018 and his current partner is Armour who he was matched with in 2020.
“When my daughter was born here in Ohio, in the middle of a global pandemic, Luke and I had breakfast at Mike's Place, and that is one moment that I still cherish from this program,” Farooq said.
Mierau sees the importance of this program, and knows the participants do, too.
“This shows international students that the Kent State community is here for them,” Mierau said, “and that Flashes take care of Flashes.”
For more information about the International Friendship Program, please visit www.kent.edu/international/friendship.
For more information about the Office of International Student Affairs, please visit www.kent.edu/international.