Program to pair international students and U.S. families

Ben Simon
Contributing Writer

As part of VCU’s efforts to expand the university’s cultural horizons, the Global Education Office will launch its Friendship Families and Cultural Exchange, or FFACE program, in late January.

The program, which is an outgrowth of the earlier Friendship Families program, will strive to give international students both a better understanding of American culture and an opportunity to see the city of Richmond.

“The FFACE program is an opportunity for international students to experience … American life outside the university,” said Elizabeth Heitt, special programs coordinator at the Global Education Office. “The majority of international students come to study and experience campus life … but the majority of them never step foot in the American family home.”

As part of the Friendship Families program, international students were paired up with host families in the Richmond area. They would then meet with their host families at least once a month to get a taste of life in the United States.

“We’ve just kind of rebranded (Friendship Families), essentially,” Heitt said. “It’s been up and running … We’re just trying to get more volunteers … and we’re hoping to give the program a little more structure.”

Part of this new structure will include an official orientation and opportunities for FFACE families and their student partners to meet up for group activities. Unlike some study abroad programs, FFACE does not encourage the students to live with their host families.

“This is not a home-stay program,” Heitt said. “The families are not required to open their physical homes. They don’t need to have the students over for dinner … It’s just about families being able to spend time with the student.”

In order to create a tighter bond between the students and their hosts, it is suggested that most families only take on one or two students.

“Some families are willing to take more than a couple of students,” Heitt said. “But we don’t want it to be a big group of students with each family. We want the families to be able to create and foster close relationships with the students.”

The expansion of the program was in part spurred by its previous successes.

“It’s been very successful in the past. The issue has always been (that) there’s (too) much student demand,” she said. “One of the challenges that we face is recruiting community volunteers.”

So far, 25 students have signed up for the program, while only six families have volunteered.

Organizers of the FFACE program hope the disparity between the number of students and hosts will be rectified prior to the January launch.

“That has been a little bit of a limitation in the program,” Heitt said. “But the families that have been paired with students in the past have been extremely enthusiastic.”

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