Marquette Program Connects International Students, Milwaukee Friends

Sep 18, 2013

The International Friendship Program at Marquette University helps international students get off campus to learn about American culture.
Credit Cornell

The Milwaukee area’s colleges and universities draw students from around the country – but increasingly, they’re attracting students from around the world.

They’re here to take advantage of the strength of the schools’ academic programs. But it’s also a chance to immerse themselves in American life.

Marquette University has created a program to ensure international students are exposed to more than just American college classrooms. The International Friendship Program pairs students with Milwaukee-area people and families.

"On campus [our students] are very much with their peers," says Coordinator Erin Lemoine, " so the International Friendship Program gives them an opportunity to really connect with family members in the community and go to a soccer game or go enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner with a family."

The program's community volunteers may have similar interests or career paths as the students. And once they're paired, it's up to the students and their stand-in family to define the experience.

International students Qiaofei Song and Wenjun Fan are from China and are both participating in the program. They say it helps them leave the cocoon of campus life and learn firsthand about the city and country they've come thousands of miles to live and learn in.

"This is a good opportunity to practice speaking and listening skills and I also have a chance to learn a lot about American culture," Song says. "We get a chance to know how an American family live(s)."

Melody Baker is a community friend who has been paired with several international students.

"One of the things the students have told me is most meaningful to them is just coming to an American home and have a meal.  So, pretty simple," she says.

She says she also gets to learn about other cultures - and has even been invited to visit her students in their native countries.

The application deadline to participate in this school year's program is Friday.