BY DAN COLEMAN
Every year, students from across the globe travel to Indiana University in search of higher education. But while the countless lectures and tomes fill their minds with the knowledge of the world, the volunteers of Bloomington Worldwide Friendship give international students a firsthand education on life in America.
Started in 1953, Bloomington Worldwide Friendship connects nearly 150 international students each year with hospitable host families and individuals from the Bloomington community. Unlike traditional foreign exchange programs where students live with host families, the volunteers of Bloomington Worldwide Friendship invite students into their homes for a cultural exchange over hot meals and hearty conversation.
“They want to learn about America, want to find what makes Americans tick,” says co-president Harriet Kulis. “You don’t have to be wealthy or unusual. It’s inviting students into your home to do what you normally do.”
The Office of International Services reaches out to incoming students through e-mails and orientation-week events. Interested students and community volunteer hosts are paired through an online application process, meeting one another at a meet-and-greet held at the start of each school year at the DeVault Alumni Center. There, the new acquaintances work out times to get together for dinners, game nights, museum visits, and holiday celebrations.
Recounting his first experience with a Bloomington family, Tetsuya Kato, a law student from Japan studying here with his wife and two children, says, “They invited us to their home for dinner. We tried some unique foods, like squash. In Japan, we don’t have that plant, so we liked it very much. We enjoy our life here with a lot of friends and a lot of fun thanks to them.”
Often, the relationships build more than cultural understanding; friendships develop that end up spanning oceans and time.
“The first student I hosted was a German grad student studying physics at IU,” says Donovan Walling, an author who has been a host in the program for 16 years. “During that year I also got acquainted with his future wife. When their first child arrived, I was asked to be the boy’s godfather.”