International Friends and Family Program expanding

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The Friendly Families program is expanding its reach and taking on a new name: The International Friends and Family Program.

The Friendly Families program, run by International Student Advisor Pat Shelley, was focused on giving guest students—those who are at SVSU for just a semester or one year—a host family experience by pairing them with SVSU staff or community members.

“With the recent increase in international students at SVSU on campus we thought it’d be cool to expand the program to include all international students,” International Student Advisor Lauren Hengtgen said. “We were hearing (international undergraduate, graduate, and transfer) students say being connected to a staff member or a family might be cool. We also had some American students approach us and say they’d be interested in interacting with international students more.”

Hengtgen and fellow International Student Advisor Adem Althor are working to pair international students with American staff, students, and community members through the expanded program.

“International students often tell us that they want to meet more American students,” Althor said. “As hard as that may seem to believe, it can be difficult for international students to form meaningful connections and friendships with American students, so this program is a platform where they could do that.”

The program pairs international students with American partners through a survey, matching individuals with similar interests, academic times, and availability. A kickoff event at the start of the semester will give partners a chance to meet up and get to know each other. From there, it’s up to them to decide what to do and when to meet, though the program will encourage them to meet at least once each month.

“We’re hoping it becomes a sort of self-directed thing where each group takes the program to where they want it to be,” Hengtgen said. “It’s also going to be a learning year where we don’t really know how people are going to react to it.”

According to Hengtgen, the program is different from other groups geared towards international students because it targets all new international students—not just English Language Program students—and it ties more into the community. Also, it is not a student-led program.

Althor said he believes there are many benefits for everyone involved in the program and the campus as a whole.

“One of the goals of (the Office of International and Advanced Studies) is what we call ‘comprehensive internationalization,’” Althor said. “It’s the idea that we want our campus to be a place that is more welcoming to people of all faiths, of all ethnicities. We want to celebrate other cultures where students are coming from and embrace what all of our students have to offer, so I think [the program] fits the goal that we have.”

“Our international students have some really incredible experiences from their own countries—really amazing personalities and individuals,” Althor added. “It’s a shame when you hear of domestic students that don’t have established friendships with international students because they bring so much to the university … The effects of making more friends and having more contacts are good and you can’t really go wrong.”

Those interested in joining the program should contact Hengtgen at or Althor at or fill out the survey at

“From something that sounds like a small program, I think it could have an effect on so many aspects of your life,” Hengtgen concluded.