Buddy up: International Buddies creates connections between local, international students

The International Buddies program matches students from across the world with local students to form relationships and promote cultural learning. (Archive photo by John Chapple | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State students wanting to connect with people from other cultures may find their next friend through International Buddies.

International Buddies pairs small groups of international students with students from the United States, staff and community members to build friendships, learn about different cultures and create a global perspective.

After the International Buddies Program’s first virtual meeting this semester on Sept. 11, many of the program’s participants are excited to continue engaging with their buddies.

Buddies come from several countries, including India, Saudi Arabia and Paraguay. This year, the program had 177 total applicants: 45 international and 132 local.

Matching chair Raphael Souza Saraiva de Oliveira, graduate student in animal science, began participating in International Buddies in 2018. Saraiva de Oliveira matches people in the program based on common interests listed on applications.

The main goals of the program are for the internationals to have locals to practice English [with] and learn about American culture. For the locals, [the goals are] to know about a different culture and language and practice a different language sometimes,” he said. “For all of them to make new friends, to have fun, to exchange knowledge and to develop a global perspective.”

Most semesters, the program organizes three large group meetings for buddies to attend, but with COVID-19 guidelines in place, all large group meetings are virtual this fall.

If buddies are comfortable and healthy, they are encouraged to meet up in-person as long as people follow social distancing guidelines. Common non-virtual activities include grabbing coffee, playing sports or sharing a meal.

Buddies typically meet bi-weekly, but many like to get together more often.

These meetings foster community building, Geneva Fink, senior in human development and family science, said.

Fink, International Buddies president, said the most important aspect of creating friendships between buddies is meeting with intention.

“Friendships can come naturally, but intentionality really helps them develop,” she said. “I believe this in all aspects, whether that be in I-Buddies or in your personal life.”

Sara Thurston, director of International Students and Scholar Services and interim faculty advisor for International Buddies, said the small group aspect of the program helps build bonds.

In the past, the program focused solely on teaching English to international students or pairing buddies one-to-one. Since switching to small groups, Thurston said friendships blossom more smoothly.

If language barriers come up between buddies, Fink said keeping communication open makes any issues easy to navigate. Luckily, she said, language differences often act as learning opportunities rather than barriers.

“If you talk through things, you’ll realize it’s usually just a misunderstanding in the end,” Fink said.

Fink has been a part of International Buddies for three years, starting as a buddy before being elected president for the fall semester. She said she fell in love with the program almost immediately.

Thurston echoed that the relationships created in International Buddies are exciting and encouraging to experience.

“I love International Buddies,” she said. “It is a great opportunity to make friends with a diverse group of people.”

Students interested in joining International Buddies can find more information on the program website.