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IC Church helps international students find furniture

BY ALY BROWN | JUNE 28, 2012 6:30 AM

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Many international students step foot on campus with only their suitcase, but one local church continues to help newcomers fill their apartments.

International students spend roughly $9,500 in the first 12 months of living at the University of Iowa, said Lee Seedorff, assistant director for advising at International Student and Scholar Services. This figure includes purchasing housing, food, furniture, and basic living expenses.

Seedorff said the figure appears on the student's immigration forms.

"They have to actually show us that they have enough financial support in order to come here," he said. "For us to create the immigration document, they have to show us financial documentation."

While International Student and Scholar Services does not offer scholarships or financial assistance, the Faith Baptist Church helps new international students find items they sorely need.

The church is celebrating its 10th year of its International Giveaway program, in which international students can come to the church and fill their apartment with secondhand goods.

Ann Den Uyl, a giveaway facilitator, said the giveaway is very popular with international students. The lowest turnout was 120 students one year, and the highest was 240 students.

"They need everything," she said. "Unless they live in a dorm, then they may need a few things. Maybe towels and sheets."

Pei Ying, a recently graduated Chinese student, said she remembers having to buy everything when she moved to the United States.

"I remember the first time I came here, there was a garage sale," she said. "A church picked us up and took us there, or to Wal-Mart or Target to get basic furniture."

Den Uyl said the giveaway helps orient students to their new living situation and Iowa City.

"You have different language, climate, money, living situations," she said. "They don't know how to get around."

Den Uyl said she has lived many place in the world, including Québec, Jordan, Togo, and Mongolia.

"I know what it's like trying to function in languages that you've thought you've learned," she said. "Just the connection with someone who cares is incredible."

She said she can relate with international students through the feeling of being alone in a strange place.

"I have had some that have cried on my shoulder," she said. "Sometimes they are homesick or just don't have the things they need. I will express some of the feelings of what they are going through, and their eyes get big and they understand."

International students can choose from large and small items at the church Aug. 11, and the church offers transportation to and from the giveaway.

Ricardo Peña Silva, a UI international student who volunteered at last year's giveaway, said it's an important resource to fulfill students' vital needs.

"I always tell students it's a perfect opportunity for them," he said. "Last year, I even saw students getting electric things, furniture, even bikes."

Silva said he volunteered to help students in their time of transition.

"I just wanted to help people," he said. "And collaborate with my community, my friends, and the church members."


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