HIS program develops friendships between U.S., intl students

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Strange foods, new smells, foreign words, unfamiliar smiles. Culture shock.

Each year hundreds of international students are greeted by challenges and thrills on a campus far from home. One organization seeks to help these students navigate the unfamiliar waters at K-State.

Todd Rundell, senior in life sciences, is involved in an organization on campus called HIS, or Helping International Students. HIS, founded in Manhattan, provides incoming international students the chance to be paired with an American “friend.”

Rundell said the goal of HIS is to connect international students and help them feel welcome and cared for by the community on campus and around town.

“The HIS friendship program provides a wonderful opportunity for international students to build relationships with American students,” according to HISmanhattan.org.

HIS friends spend time together cooking, eating out, studying, playing sports and watching movies.

The program seeks to help international students at K-State become better assimilated and more comfortable with American lifestyles.

Helping people adapt to American culture is only one desired outcome of HIS. The organization’s ideals are far greater.

Former veterinary professor Bob Taussig and his wife Mary founded HIS in 1979. They were returning from a four-year missionary stint in Nigeria, where they helped establish a veterinary college and taught English.

Mary said she would go to the immigration office frequently because of her constant travel. At the airport, she said she overheard many college students returning with educatinal degrees from America talking very aggressively about their experiences.

After reflecting on what she heard, Mary said she concluded that there were three reasons God had sent the Taussigs to Nigeria.

She said one of those reasons was to have the chance to talk to someone and show her that not every international student who studies in the U.S. has a good experience.

They came back to Manhattan ready to make a difference.

They retrieved a list from the International Student Center of the names of international students on campus and began to pray for each one of them. There were over one thousand international students on K-State’s campus in 1976. Over the next year, Bob and Mary invited the students into their home, found out about who they were and where they had come from and became very good friends with many of them.

The Taussigs said they got others involved, too, but Mary’s sense of urgency was what really led the organization to become what it is today.

“I said (to those willing to help), ‘I am going to give you the name and telephone number and address of a student. What you would do in that student’s life will be all that will happen in their life this year,'” Mary said.

She said those who were eager to serve got more involved with a student. They became friends, not just someone to help a foreigner adjust to American life.

One day, on a drive home together, Mary said Bob suggested organizing this group of people.

“We could call the organization ‘HIS’ for the praise of His glory,” Bob said.

To the international students on campus, HIS is a way to fill the desire of having a satisfying experience in America while getting an education. But to the Taussigs, HIS is one way God provided them with an opportunity to fulfill the purpose of sharing their faith among the nations.

“To reach one to become a Christian and influence their people back home is worth a lifetime of missionary work,” Bob said.

Assimilation in America

According to the Institute of International Education, a record 671,616 international students were enrolled in universities across America during the 2008-2009 academic year. At K-State, the International Student and Scholar Services reported that international enrollment set a record as well with 1,717 students from 102 countries enrolled in the fall of 2009.

For many of these students, the transition from their native country’s culture to American college life can be a bumpy road.

“Simply place yourself in the situation of an international. You are observing hundreds of new things every day, many of which you do not understand,” said Russ Wolters, HIS facilitator and senior in nutritional sciences.

Emil Rodolfa, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of California-Davis offered more insight on the challenge.

“For international students, adjusting to university life is complicated by the fact that they need to learn and negotiate cultural issues first to have access to the academic, social and other resources at the university,” Rodolfa said.

The need to help students from different cultures is a growing one, especially as the numbers of international students in the U.S. increases.

Bob said many international students do not enjoy their time in the U.S.

“Socially, it is sort of a negative experience,” Bob said.

Jenny Ji, a native Korean and staff writer at the San Francisco State campus newspaper in California said the answer to the problem lies in determining the difference between integration and assimilation.

“Integration emphasizes retaining individual characteristics while living in a community. Assimilation emphasizes the social process of being absorbed by one culture into another,” Ji said.

Taking the First Step

Cheryl May, assistant vice president of communications and marketing, said the increasing presence of international students indicates their recognition of the programs offered through K-State’s colleges and departments.

In addition to offering an education, many American universities have programs geared toward setting up friendships between American students and foreign students.

Virginia Tech University’s Cranwell International Center invites international students on its campus to get plugged in to an International Friendship Program. The Center’s main goal is to allow incoming students to develop friendships outside of everyday campus interactions.

“The biggest things we can do is to initiate. They will not likely attempt to develop friendships with Americans even if they really want them,” said Michael Bryant, HIS coordinator.

What to Do

Helping International Students has grown in popularity among many universities across America.

“Most all of the major universities have ministries to international students, not all called HIS by any means,” Bob said.

Campuses at Virginia Tech, South Carolina and UNC-Chapel Hill have each implemented their own version of HIS.

Although the HIS organization matches international students with a particular American friend, it seeks to provide a person-to-person connection, not an American-to-international connection.

“It’s just like any other friendship, I guess, mostly just hanging out. It was just another relationship,” Rundell said. “It’s a really good way to get over yourself. People are different, so you have to treat them differently and you‚Äôre different from everyone else. We’re just not that big of a deal. So if you are interested in learning that lesson, that‚Äôs probably one good reason to get involved.”

If you are interested in getting involved with HIS or want more information, call HIS Manhattan at 785-537-3988, or e-mail info@hismanhattan.org

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