Program Introduces International Students to American Culture

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Students connect with local host families through International Friends of Tucson to share their culture and learn more about the United States.

Coming to America to continue your education can lead to culture shock and questions. (What happens at a rodeo? What is Thanksgiving?) Enter: International Friends of Tucson, which connects international students attending the University of Arizona with Tucson residents for friendship, learning and sharing. Created in the 1950s, this community-based program has brought together thousands of undergraduate and graduate students and Tucsonans over the years.

“What’s exciting is these international students are able to experience Tucson in a different way, off campus,” says Noelle Sallaz, associate director of International Student Services at the UA. “They might have friends at the UA but to have a family in Tucson makes a big difference.”

Holidays, celebrated Tucson-style, prove to be an eye-opening experience for students. From local events like the renowned All Souls Procession to experiencing Thanksgiving for the first time, students are exposed to the cultures and traditions of Tucson and America — and vice versa.

"It is a wonderful experience that any international student must be a part of,” says Nazorio Kone, a former UA student from Cote d'Ivoire. “You get a chance to learn about Tucson and American culture. You have a family — people who can guide you through cultural shock and just spend time with.”

The program kicks off every semester during orientation with a welcome luncheon, where students can sign up for a host family. At the annual Fall Fiesta, students meet their hosts for the first time, and at the annual Spring Picnic, all program participants come together for a multicultural potluck, music and games. Throughout the semester, hosts invite students to welcome dinners for the chance to bond over a homecooked meal.

“We hear about former IF students who’ve invited their Tucson hosts to their countries when they get married years later,” Sallaz says. “The friendships and relationships formed are really special and very long-lasting.”

To learn how to get involved, visit www.ifriendstucson.org.