Program Helps Students Bond While They Are Abroad
iFriend Connects International and Domestic Students for Learning and Laughs
Feb. 3, 2012
The chance to learn about new cultures, different languages or exotic foods might make the iFriend program seem like a good idea to just about anyone, but a few UT Dallas students walk away with the best perk of all: a lifelong pal.
Begun in fall 2010 as a way to help new international teaching assistants acclimate to life on campus, the program has morphed into a partnership between the International Student Services Office (ISSO) and the Office of Student Volunteerism (OSV) that provides an immersive cultural experience to both domestic and international students.
Through iFriend, interested students are paired with someone from another culture. Matches are made based on interests, cultural/country preference and gender.
The buddies are encouraged to meet for an hour, once a week for 10 weeks to discuss various subjects — anything from hobbies to academic plans to everyday life in their home countries. They also venture out for planned activities like cooking, shopping or field trips together.
International student Jie “Jennifer” Yang, a native of China and a graduate student in finance in the Naveen Jindal School of Management, said iFriend was a meaningful experience.
“I came to UT Dallas in August and saw notices around campus about iFriend,” Yang said. “It was my first time being abroad, and before I came here, I felt afraid, wondering if I would be accepted. With iFriend, I made new friends and there were no barriers between us. It’s a real relationship, and it still goes even though the program has ended for me.”
Domestic students signing up through the OSV receive volunteer credits for their time with the program, and iFriend culminates with a potluck dinner for all the participants. There’s also a debriefing about how things went and ways to improve the program.
Last fall, iFriend matched 40 pairs, far exceeding expectations for such a young program, according to Andrea Diaz, a program coordinator for the ISSO. Diaz said the partners sometimes even meet outside of their weekly assignment.
“The feedback from our international students is that they really want to know more about American culture,” Diaz said. “The motivation to join probably has a lot to do with picking up the language — for both international and domestic students. But there are just so many other benefits for both sides, too, including lasting friendships.”
The next iFriend kick off and matching mixer is set for 5 p.m. on Feb. 3 in the Galaxy Rooms of the Student Union. For more information, domestic students should contact the Office of Student Volunteerism at 972-883-6131, and international students should call the International Student Services Office at 972-883-4084.