MSSU’s Volunteer Programs Help International Students Feel Right at Home
Experience American life & get support at Missouri Southern State University
For international students studying at Missouri Southern State University (MSSU), learning about American culture goes way beyond the classroom. Through the university’s Friendship Family and Conversation Partner programs, these students have the rare opportunity to experience true American family life and better their English language skills.
Local families volunteer to befriend international students at MSSU who would like to make a family connection during their time in the U.S. Families may invite students over for dinner, take them out for coffee, include them on a family outing to a ball game or amusement park, and more.
“It’s important to support the international students so they can see what good people live in Joplin and the surrounding area,” said Mike Jernigan who, with his wife, Ann, has served as a Friendship Family for several years. “They are miles from family and the normal support family would give, so we temporarily ‘adopt’ these students in an effort to make their time at MSSU the best it can be.”
Nathalia Burleson, who is also part of an international Friendship Family, says the program has been a fun experience for her family. “It’s expanded our horizons as we’ve learned about other cultures and customs. We love being able to be a family for someone far from home and offer hospitality through dinners, games, movies, and more. What starts out as an opportunity for us to help someone else often turns into lifelong friendship.”
Olexsandr, an MSSU student from Ukraine, says the Friendship Family program is a great opportunity to meet people and take a closer look at a culture different from his own: “My Friendship Family helped me in all aspects of adaptation in a new country. Having a Friendship Family definitely helps international students improve their social skills, practice English, and experience American life.”
Aaron Carmichael, director of MSSU’s Intensive English Program (IEP), who heads up the Conversation Partners program, says the program is a helpful way for international students at MSSU to practice conversational English and adapt to life on campus. “It also helps them develop meaningful and often long-term friendships with American students,” he said.
International students are paired with American student volunteers, and they meet on a weekly basis at a time that’s convenient for both parties. “Having a conversation partner can really accelerate an international student’s English skills, but it also creates a system of support that leads to greater success in and out of the classroom,” adds Carmichael.
Conversation partners assist international students in learning about American life and culture, which helps improve their practical English. Houzaif, a student from Niger, said the program has helped him improve his vocabulary and English-speaking skills.
According to Jesse Briscoe, coordinator of international student services at MSSU, “One thing international students look forward to the most when they come to the United States is connecting with American students, and Missouri Southern’s Conversation Partner program does just that. Many times, these weekly meetings lead to friendships where students begin going shopping together, eating at local restaurants, hiking and camping, going to the movies, or even going on a trip during the break periods.”
Home away from home
Students who wish to accelerate their English skills and learn about American life and culture have lots of opportunities to make connections and build relationships, and the Friendship Family and Conversation Partner programs are just two ways they can do that at no additional cost. Learn more about Missouri Southern State University, including information on the school’s Intensive English Program.
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