A longstanding Binghamton University program has helped international students navigate American life for more than 30 years by pairing them with local families eager to ease their transition.
According to Ellen H. Badger, director of International Students & Scholar Services, the Friendship Family program assigns students from other countries to a local family to help them learn American customs and the Binghamton area.
The program also reaches out to students during the holidays when they would normally be home with their families.
“Through this family/student connection, the Friendship Family program hopes to ease the student’s feelings of loneliness and homesickness,” Badger wrote in an email.
Families have many reasons for wanting to assist students with the academic and cultural adjustment of life in the United States, according to Badger.
Elizabeth Mayner, along with her husband Dave and their two children, is working with two students in the Friendship Family program this year.
“We love meeting international students and learning about their countries and cultures,” Mayner wrote in an email. “We lived in a foreign country for a couple of years when we were first married, so we understand some of the difficulties internationals face and enjoy helping them in any ways we can.”
Throughout the more than 15 years her family has participated in the program, Mayner has met and worked with 40 to 50 international students.
“Some we get very involved with; others we meet only once,” Mayner said. “It all depends on the student.”
Youngmin Chung and Hye Young Min, both first-year graduate students from South Korea, are the students the Mayner family is working with this year.
Mayner said that her family plans to remain in contact with the students for as long as they are in Binghamton.
Mayner’s family has tried to include their students in holiday celebrations in previous years.
“We always invite a lot of students to our home for Thanksgiving Dinner, and have also included various ones for Christmas and Easter celebrations,” Mayner said.
Badger and Mayner said that the relationship between student and family can be as simple as sharing a meal, bringing the family to Family Weekend and other campus events, or the family helping the student with travel and immigration details.
Friendship Family only provides a social relationship for international students. According to the Friendship Family website, “Friendship with a Friendship Family does not include assistance with financial, academic, medical or psychological problems.”
BU alumnus George Cummings said he keeps in touch with international students he has hosted in the past.
“I have several past International students that I stay in touch with and have many nice memories of the students I have been with thru [sic] the years,” Cummings wrote in an email.
He said that his experience with international students enhances his own travels abroad.
“I am an alumni, and I travel internationally, so I like the idea of this program,” Cummings added.
Badger said that currently, 70 families and an estimated 90 students are participating in the Friendship Family program.