Friends of International Students

Friends of International Students (FIS) match international students with people in the Shoals who are interested in meeting them and helping them during their studies. If you are a UNA international student wanting to participate in this program, please contact Monica Marthaler in the OIA office in Powers Hall.

Anyone genuinely interested in international exchange on a personal level is encouraged to become a friend. There is no typical volunteer – they are young and old, single individuals and married couples, young families and senior citizens. Like Americans in general, participants come from all walks of life and have all kinds of experiences.
The students are far from home and in a different culture, often struggling with the English language and the demands of academic life. They will appreciate having an individual who offers hospitality and friendship. Many lifelong friendships are begun through FIS.
Here are some guidelines and suggestions:
  • Students live in University housing or in off-campus apartments. They will not live in your home.
  • Friends should plan to meet with their students several times a semester.
  • Normal activities, whether it be family gatherings, going to the movies, or outdoor activities, are a great way to get to know your student and show them a glimpse of American family life.
  • Many students also enjoy inviting their friends to their activities – perhaps cooking a meal, going to a UNA event, or some other similar occasion.
  • There are also occasional FIS-sponsored events to which all friends and students are invited to attend.
  • It is not mandatory to include students on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day. Many students travel during periods when the University is closed.

Experiencing the cultures of the world in our community diversifies us all in many ways. As we encounter some cultural differences in our relations on campus and in the community, we have the chance to learn, reflect, practice and grow.  Here are some steps that you can take to help improve your intercultural communication skills.

  • The first days in a new environment are confusing for all students. Please be flexible, tolerant and patient to understand the additional needs of international students. When facing a communication barrier, speak slower, not louder. Write things down. International students may not understand immediately but will be able to refer to it later if it is in writing.
  • Pointing something out on a map can help with communication.
  • It is always good to recap and/or paraphrase something to make it clearer to understand.
  • Smile! Ask and learn about their home countries, travel to the US, and families.
  • Use simple language. Avoid slang and a strong accent.
  • Listen actively and closely.
Friends of International Students"Hosting Bryant and Von has been such a blessing for Erica and me. We are so grateful that we were willing to step outside our comfort zones and host these two young men for the two years they are here in Alabama. We have had the opportunity to take them with us to Tennessee and experience an “American” Thanksgiving where Bryant also had the chance to ride a miniature horse. It was his first time and he absolutely loved it. We were not sure exactly what to expect when we signed up to be a host family, but briefly, we hang out at least once a month and catch up on life and school for the boys over food, generally pizza which they both love. We are planning a big trip to Six Flags this summer with them since they have never been to a theme park but have both wanted to ride a roller-coaster. They call us their “American family” and we just refer to them as “the boys”. They will forever be part of the Waldman family; even when they head back to China, Erica and I are considering a future trip to see them both and meet their families overseas. We both are thankful for this opportunity that Friends of International Students offers and would encourage any family to also step out of their comfort zones."
Hunter and Erica Waldman

If you would like to talk to someone about the Friends of International Program, please contact:

Monica Marthaler
Executive Assistant, Office of International Affairs
E: mmarthaler@una.edu
O: 256.765.4898

How do I get involved?

Volunteers should fill out and submit this application. We try to match the interests and other requests made by the applicants, but do ask that the volunteer be open to a variety of students that come to UNA. We encourage being matched with a pair of students. The students are more relaxed and the interaction/conversation are more natural.

FIS Volunteer Application

FIS Student Application