BY TRACY ZOLLINGER TURNER
Coming to study in a new country can be exciting—but a bit overwhelming. To help ease that transition, Bloomington Worldwide Friendship (BWF) works closely with the Indiana University Office of International Services to match local residents willing to open their homes and share their hospitality with students from around the globe.
The commitment asked by BWF is modest, says Cindy York, president of the organization, which began in 1953. Hosts are asked to get together with students just three or four times each semester for the duration of their studies here.
“We ask hosts to do the things that they usually like to do, and just include the students in those activities,” says York, who began hosting students more than a decade ago.
York says some hosts may elect to take students along to see live music or attend athletic events. “But you don’t have to spend a lot of money to participate,” she says. “You can just go on a hike or picnic together, or take advantage of any of the free things there are to do in Bloomington. The important thing is to have an open mind about their culture. Most students love talking about their country because they are far away, and talking about it helps them feel more at home.”
Many students sign up for host families during August orientation. While students come from all over the world, currently the largest percentage come from Asian countries.
Every year the group holds events for host families and students. There’s a picnic at Lake Lemon near the start of the fall semester, a Thanksgiving gathering, and an end-of-year potluck meal where international students share favorite foods from and stories about their home cultures.
York says the friendships made tend to enrich the lives of everyone involved. “We learn about their countries as they learn about ours,” she says. “I think that hosts go into this thinking that they are going to do a good thing, then they end up getting more out of it than they could ever imagine.”
For more information, visit bwfbloomington.org.