UA Employees Volunteer as 'International Friends'
With a spike in international student enrollment this year, faculty and staff at The University of Arizona are encouraging more people to volunteer for an organization that helps acclimate the students to life in the United States.
International Friends, a community-based nonprofit, connects international students with hosts in the Tucson area to develop friendships and to exchange knowledge about their respective cultures and countries.
A number of UA employees and University affiliates volunteer for the organization, which has maintained a close partnership with the UAâ€™s Office of International Student Programs and Services for 30 years, said Amber Tetreau Segura, a UA international student programs adviser.
â€œItâ€™s a great program because the students learn more about our culture and get to meet people in the community,â€ Segura said. â€œAlso, the host gets to learn about a new culture.â€
Because â€œweâ€™re living in a global environmentâ€ cultural exchange is important not only for the international students, but also for their hosts in Tucson and at the UA, Segura said. The students and their hosts share meals together, go on outings and attend community events.
The organization is having a reception and fundraiser Friday from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Arizona State Museum. Anyone interested in learning about the organization and who would like to volunteer is encouraged to attend.
Paul Kohn, vice provost for enrollment management and dean of admissions, said the UA has seen about a 10 percent increase in international student enrollment this year. This year, the UA enrolled 904 international undergraduate students and 1,445 graduate students compared with 805 undergraduates and 1,456 graduate students last year.
While the UA is similar to other institutions across the nation in having difficulty improving the numbers of international graduate students, the University has been quite successful in boosting the number of undergraduate international students in the post-Sept. 11 era. In 2006, the UA enrolled 784 international undergraduates â€“ 102 fewer than today.
"We helped to make it happen. We are really increasing our presence overseas,â€ said Kohn, who has gone abroad to recruit for students. Various units on campus, including the Graduate College and the Center for English as a Second Language, also have worked to improve the number of international students enrolling at the UA. He also said the UA is printing more recruiting material in foreign languages and enhancing Web sites with foreign languages as well.
â€œSo, weâ€™re taking on different initiatives,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™ll naturally rebound if we put some effort into our recruitment.â€
Kohn said International Friends is also a tremendous help.
"International Friends is incredibly important for us,â€ said Kohn, who has two cousins who volunteer for International Friends. â€œI canâ€™t imagine how much weâ€™re benefited by the organizations, especially in making the students feel welcome.â€
Nearly 200 international students from about 45 different countries â€“ including China, Chile, Senegal, Denmark, Japan and Slovenia â€“ have signed up for a friend or host.
That is a record number for the organization, Segura said.
Ivan Ogloblin, a UA doctoral degree candidate in the chemistry department, signed up to participate in the program when he moved to Tucson from Russia in 2006.
When he arrived, he had no friends or family living in Tucson and was somewhat unfamiliar with the social and cultural aspects of living in the United States. But Ogloblin said the experience proved to be beneficial and he has since become an International Friends board member.
"When you arrive here as an international student, it's hard," he said. "You're far from your country, it's a different language here â€“ everything is different."
But he found that the volunteers in the organization were quite interested in international affairs, which resulted in a "mutual exchange of ideas," he said.
The organization takes students to dinner, organized hiking outings and sponsors social events. Also, during the spring, the organization sponsors the Tucson Mayorâ€™s Awards, which are presented to students who take an active role in a cultural exchange on and off campus.
Pamela Obando, associate director for Residence Life at the UA, is paired with four new students this year.
â€œIt helps them to start making friends, and some of them become fairly long-term friendships, which is wonderful,â€ Obando said.
â€œIn most cases these are brand-new international students who have never been in an American home,â€ Obando said. â€œItâ€™s so rewarding and you learn so much from them.â€
And thatâ€™s the point, Segura said.
â€œThey take a piece of us home,â€ she said, â€œand we keep a part of them here.â€