FRIENDS: Creating Bonds and Strengthening MSU

Entering a new college atmosphere, no matter your background, comes with many emotions. It’s often exciting and scary to sleep in a different place, eat different food and make new friends. As a student who has studied abroad, I can testify that to many the anxiety and excitement involved in this transition are amplified when you are an exchange student. Walking into class your first day becomes an entirely different kind of intimidating when English isn’t your first language and winter can be surprising if you are not accustomed to snow. Finding sheets for your dorm, rides from the airport and a social circle to explore isn’t easy when you’re new in town.

At MSU the new student-led FRIENDS program helps to ease the confusion for exchange students while assisting MSU students explore other cultures. FRIENDS is an exciting way to broaden participants’ cultural horizons and make our school more welcoming to all students. The program is about to begin its second semester in action on campus.

Hannah Wilson, a MSU history and economics senior, was inspired to start the FRIENDS program after her semester abroad at Hallym University in Korea. She found their program of pairing incoming exchange and local students to be effective and helpful in her travels and upon return to Bozeman realized MSU did not have such a program. She partnered with Griffin Ruehl, another MSU student, and the Office of International Programs (OIP) to assign incoming exchange students buddies from MSU. Spring 2014 was the first semester the FRIENDS program ran successfully.

Based on students’ interest and foreign language study areas, each MSU student is paired with an incoming exchange student before the exchange student arrives. Through email correspondence the exchange student is able to connect and discuss any questions about packing and what to expect. At the start of the semester, the pair can explore campus, buy books and attend events together as they get accustomed to the semester to come.

Although the program spans only two weeks at the beginning of the semester, many students remain friends after the program ends — some even become roommates. Wilson explained the program’s success: “It is short-term, requires little administrative work and can be as extensive as the pair of students wants it to be.”

MSU has many exciting opportunities and the Bozeman area has much to offer, but navigating these in one semester can prove nearly impossible. The FRIENDS program brings a much-needed resource to exchange students in a simple, effective and fun way. Because it is created and maintained by students, the program is relevant to the community and manageable for students’ busy schedules. It also allows MSU students to make connections if they intend to study abroad in the future.

MSU is working towards becoming a more diverse campus, yet it remains easy to go through four years of college without interacting with people from many different cultures. This cultural isolation is not representative of the rapidly globalizing workforce or life in general and, without exposure to other cultures, students are missing out on a major education opportunity. The FRIENDS program provides that opportunity in an informal and exciting way and stands as a great new asset to the MSU campus. This is a program MSU needs to nurture to promote a diverse campus and community.