Reaching across borders
International students arriving on campus for the first time this fall should feel more welcome than ever before.
Friends Without Borders is a new program for the University of Iowa’s upcoming 2014-15 academic year that pairs returning domestic students with incoming international students.
“It’s been in the works for a long time,” said Kevin Roiseland, an international students and scholars adviser for UI International Programs.
A growing staff and international presence at the UI is the reason it’s starting now, he said.
The international-student population has grown from 2,982 students in 2010 to 4,049 students last year. There are 112 foreign countries and territories are represented in the UI student population, with China — at 2,266 students — being the most common point of origin, according to UI International Programs.
“We’re always trying to create opportunities for domestic students to interact with international students,” said Downing Thomas, associate provost and dean of International Programs.
Roiseland said because it is a pilot program, so many aspects of its operation are still being formulated.
The program will mostly run on existing UI resources by adding staff hours and pulling from general funding. There is a potential donor who wants to create programs of this nature and may end up contributing, Thomas said.
“We don’t anticipate it being very expensive,” Roiseland said.
A kickoff event is set for the second week of the fall semester.
Events will be designed as low-key mixers with food that encourage and help students bond in what may be their first face-to-face meetings. UI officials may also choose to include some competitive events to help pairs bond, Roiseland said.
Prizes will also be offered as a way of encouraging participation. The specific prizes have yet to be decided on, but they may be anything from football tickets to iPads, Roiseland and Thomas said.
Beyond the first event, the program plans on hosting two larger events, in January and May. There also will be a number of smaller events that have yet to be planned, and a monthly newsletter to keep participants up to speed with the program.
UI student Ethan Schultz said that it sounded like a great idea for foreign students, but he was concerned about the time commitment involved.
“Cool events could help make it worth the time,” he said.
Thomas said not all students can afford to study abroad and that the program could offer UI students a chance to learn more about the wider world.
Domestic students seem ready to take up the challenge.
In the first two weeks of marketing Friends Without Borders, 160 returning domestic students and 80 international students have signaled their willingness to participate in the program, Roiseland said.
He expects that more international students will sign up as they get ready to arrive in Iowa City in anticipation of one of the largest incoming classes of international students in the university’s history.
Roiseland and Thomas said they hope to learn more from this program as the academic year progresses so they can continue improving the experience of attending Iowa from a foreign land.
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