Friend-families are amazing. Most study abroad offices have some form of ‘get to know the locals’ program, either by organizing meetings with local students or setting you up with a local family. Taking advantage of these opportunities leads to good times and people who will give you advice on local living and old television sets.
The program I am attending offers two options, the buddy program where you are matched with a local student, and the friend-family program. As I explained last week, the friend-family program is like a host-family, except without living with them. This grants you flexibility, and the freedom to say, ‘no, I don’t really want to do that’ to a friend family that you wouldn’t necessarily have with a host family. This extra degree of separation makes it more comfortable for a lot of people since they’re not thrown headfirst into living with a group of strangers.
My friend family has horses and the mother specifically requested the study abroad office to find her a student who spoke English and had horse-knowledge. Filling out the interest surveys that the foreign offices send you can pay off, even if answering the same question five different times gets annoying fast. Maybe not with something as convenient as horse-enthusiasts matching up, but if you mention cooking as a hobby, they won’t match you up with someone who indicates they live off fast-food. The people here have been very good about matching up people to friend-families they have a shared interest with.
As efficient as the matching system is, without effort the friend-family program won’t do much for you. After setting up the initial meeting the International Office lets the families and students work out visits and such on their own. Without being willing to say, meet up for lunch or go to their house for a weekend, the main benefits of the program are lost.
Spending a weekend in the beautiful Swedish countryside learning how to talk about horses in Swedish was the equivalent of a godsend; especially since it was the last sunny weekend for a while When they say rain, they mean constant rain. No thunder though, which took some getting used to.
Other students’ friend-families have taken them through the farmer’s market and shown them the best deals. Some others have gone on outings to nearby cities by train to show them the sights. The only thing I haven’t heard about is a negative experience regarding friend-families. The system works well, since the only people who get signed up for it are the people who express interest in it.
The other program, the buddy program, doesn’t have such a clean track record. Part of the problem is two students with different class schedules and Facebook as the only means of communication have trouble setting up meeting points. Another is loss of interest over the summer or a change of availability, since this program was set up last May.
Even so, the buddy program is overall positive, though some buddies have ‘adopted’ students whose buddies basically forgot about them. For that reason my buddy, Cecilia Sjölund, has two other students, a German and a New Zealander. Due to our different origin points, as a group we’re planning a trip to Germany and Zealand. Idaho is a little out of reach, so we went to the grocery store and bought potatoes and I found a recording of a Boise State match online.
Explaining American football to a pair of Europeans is hard enough without a New Zealander mixing up the rules with rugby.
It’s hard to make local connections without these programs. International students are usually all living in the same area with few local students to be found, the classes international students take are seldom offered to local students and not many people hang out on campus after classes unless they’re international or have work to do. The buddy and friend-family programs give a kick-start to getting into the local lifestyle and sometimes having someone to call up and ask stupid questions of (like, can you take a bike onto a train as luggage?) is all you really need.
The answer’s sometimes, by the way.