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Saturday, March 28, 2020

Buddy program pairs exchange students to help meet people

Buddy program online WATERMARKWestern student volunteers pair up with 40 international students to welcome them to a new country, town and school this fall with the help of the International Buddy Program.

The program hopes to make the transition to Bellingham life easier by providing international students with a way to connect to their peers, adjust to American culture and explore the area.

Western and international student buddies are encouraged to meet regularly. Larger events are held every other week, including a boat cruise, snowshoeing in the Outdoor Center during the winter and visiting the San Juan Islands in the spring. There are also several local events planned, such as visiting a pumpkin patch and ice skating.

Despite being optional to international students, the program has grown in popularity with a record number of both international students and volunteers this fall.

Haruka Kasugai, a junior from Japan, said the program made it easier for her to meet new people and learn about cultures from around the world. Kasugai said that without the program, she would not be as social.

I can be difficult making friends when you are focused on going to class and studying all the time, Kasugai said.  

Kasugai studied abroad once before at the University of California, Riverside, where there was not a comparable program offered. Kasugai found the transition to be much more difficult without the help of the International Buddy Program.

“You have to live there, but you don’t know where the grocery store is…but with the buddy, you can just ask,” Kasugi said. “It’s really supportive.”

The program is part of the International Student and Scholarship Services office, which also assists international students obtaining visas and registering for classes. Abigail Borchert, the International Student Advisor within the ISSS, said most volunteers are students with previous experience studying abroad.

“If a Western student, for example, studied at university in Germany, they come back from their exchange they might be a buddy of a student from that same university that they studied at. So that is especially appealing,” Borchert said.

Taiya Brown, a senior studying Psychology and minoring in International Studies, volunteers within the program to help recruit Western students and organize program events.

Brown’s favorite part of the program is getting to interact with the international students and learn their perspective on American life.

“I like to think of it as raising global awareness about other people and the world and where they’re from,” said Brown.  “It is  interesting to see how much diversity comes from other countries.”

Borchert described the program as a safe place for everyone to experience new cultures and create new friendships.

“It’s a great way to make connections, it puts you a little outside your comfort zone, but there are also some really great opportunities that come with that too,” Borchert said. “[The program] is about taking advantage of being in a place where you can meet people from all over the world, it’s fun.”

The program is held year round and is free to both volunteers and international students. Those interested in the program can visit the ISSS website at wwu.edu/ISSS or email wwuinternationalbuddies@gmail.com.

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