The Friends From Afar program at Northern State University pairs international students with Aberdeen residents to help them learn about American culture. There are benefits to having a home away from home.
Steve and Cristy Biegler have a full house. Seven college students, representing three countries, are sitting around the dining room table working on a craft project. There’s lasagna in the oven. It’s not unusual for
the Bieglers to be spending their evening with international students. Cristy says they get together about once a week for family dinners, concerts, or other outings.
“Playing piano with the students, that’s one of my favorite things,” Biegler says. “They like to cook for you so just getting together and having them cook and experiencing their food and culture, that’s some of the favorite things I like to do.”
Biegler says it’s important for students’ parents to know that someone is watching out for their child while they’re in the U.S. Being a part of a friendship family also helps students, like Hyemin Lee, from South Korea, feel less homesick.
“Sometimes I miss my mother and my mother’s food. But Cristy always make me like, being home,” Lee says.
Chinese student Ying Lin says she’s lucky to have such a good host family. One thing she’s learned about American culture during her time in Aberdeen: people here are friendly.
“Every day, see any people, just ‘hi, how are you?’ It’s very good because in China we don’t greet strangers. But I think here, everyone is friends, no strangers,” Lin says.
NSU International Student Advisor Stacey Schmidt says the program is building relationships around the world that will last a lifetime.
“We’ve found that the students who do have this experience go home with a much better knowledge of the United States,” Schmidt says. “Some of them actually want to stay and continue school here.”
Schmidt says as the international student population at NSU grows, so does the need for Aberdeen residents to participate in the program.