Friendship Families are individuals or families who provide a “home away from home” experience for students from other countries who are enrolled in local colleges and universities. Though these students usually have housing, they would like to build a friendship with locals. American Christian individuals or families “adopt” these students and seek to learn from them and love them as sojourners in our land. Friendship Families seek to demonstrate biblical Christianity to these students through their lifestyle, conversation, and prayers.
Being an FF means that you befriend one or more students and build a friendship through notes, letters, phone calls, visits, and activities together. Ideally you contact the student weekly. To become an FF, contact an ISM staff member in your area.
One goal of being an FF is to build growing, lifelong international friendships based on shared experiences and mutual understanding. FF’s care in the first three months to a year of a student’s arrival can make the difference between hostility to the culture they’ve been immersed in and appreciation.
The sustained, deep friendship of an FF has incredible evangelistic power because it is uniquely different from general American culture – and it affords time for the gospel to be seen and understood. A Christian FF must understand the spiritual implications of the relationship.
- There are three roles international students have that FF’s can help them meet:
- The Student Role: Internationals are very intelligent but often under pressure from governments and family to excel, are stunned by U.S. competition, and struggle with language. They need encouragement without having their time monopolized
- The Ambassador Role: Internationals need and desire to share what their country and culture are like and to clarify misconceptions. Inquire and listen without pride or being judgmental.
- The Tourist Role: Internationals need and desire to see and learn about our country and culture. You’re an expert!
- Extend invitations early on, since many students are looking forward to experiencing an American home.
- Help the student to become familiar with the "American way of life" such as vending machines, laundromats, supermarkets, checking accounts, the post office and other similar customs
- Familiarize the student with American social customs and manners. Help them understand and acquire practical, useful idioms used in the US. Give information about aspects of the community they’re interested in, for example government, businesses, education, or recreation. You can introduce them to Americans working in their field of study.
- Provide a place for students to experience holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas.
- Find mutual hobbies or interests, and do them together! Bottom line – you’re being a friend to them. Be a friend!
Tips for day visits
- Make sure the students have your telephone number and address in case they need to get in touch with you about last minute changes. It is usually best to pick them up from their dorm or apartment, but if they’re arriving on their own, make sure you give clear directions or a map to reach your home.
- It’s often helpful to give an indication of how long the visit will last. Some students may feel uncomfortable if they don’t know how long it is acceptable for them to stay to be polite. You can say something like, “We will pick you up at noon and show you around town for a while. After we eat dinner we’ll take you back to your apartment. It will probably be around 6:30 pm.”
- Students are interested in knowing more about the city. Even if they’ve been in the area for a while, they likely still will enjoy visiting places like botanical gardens, zoos, or downtown places. You can also take them to a concert, drive through the countryside, or go for a walk.
- They may not know how you prefer to be addressed, which could make them feel uncomfortable or awkward. Take the initiative and tell them what you would like to be called. Ask them how you should address them – many may give you their “American name” to make it easier to pronounce, but will appreciate efforts to learn their real name.
- International students miss their families! They often will be glad to share with you about their families and will look forward to being in a family environment.
- Students will want to feel more at home and less like a guest. If they offer to help with meal preparations or clean-up, let them join you.
- Don't be surprised if your guests do something "strange." Our culture and customs here in the USA may be different from their own. In Japan, for example, one removes their shoes before coming into the house (to keep it clean). In Nigeria, the guest will not tell you when he wants to go home, but will wait until the host gives permission to leave. In some African countries it's fine to show up as a guest with one or two "extra" people - without telling the host beforehand! It might even happen that your guests don't show up, and don't call first to let you know. In some cultures it's polite to ask the other person how old they are. Don't be upset by such (for us unusual) events, because sharing the love of Christ is so important.
- Ask the students if they follow a particular diet or do not eat certain foods. Some international students have certain cultural or religious diets. Usually chicken, fish, or eggs are “safe” items to serve. You may serve “American” food (it may be expected) but don’t be too surprised if they’re not too enthusiastic as it may take them time to get used to our food.
- If the international student is a Christian, invite him or her to join you for worship. Even if your guests are not Christians, they may be open to attending a worship service with you if they are asked gently. Be willing to accept "No, thank you," for an answer.
- Feel free to practice whatever family customs you have about prayer or reading a Scripture portion before or after the meal. Explain to the students that this is your custom by saying something simple such as, "It's our family custom to give thanks to God for the meal as we begin." Just be yourself. As you do this with tact and love they will respect your convictions, and it may lead to a good conversation about spiritual things.
- Have a leisurely meal. Most internationals are unaccustomed to the way Americans quickly devour their food. In some countries it is not the custom to talk while eating, so don't take your guest's silence as a mark of uneasiness or ungratefulness.
Please be in prayer about your visit together, and be ready to invite the students back in four to six weeks. Since they are studying, they will not expect to be invited every week, but if they are never invited back, they will feel badly, and wonder whether they have offended you in some way. Let the friendship develop and give you guidance on how often to invite them. If the students invite you to do something with them, please be ready to accept their invitation. It's their opportunity to express friendship and gratitude for your love and care.