Most people entered MU’s Memorial Union on Thursday night with dripping hair and wet shirts. Despite the burst of evening rain, 20 people from the Columbia area turned out to learn about American LIFE.
LIFE, which stands for League of International Friendship Encounters, is a new program offered by the International Student and Scholar Services at MU.
The program pairs volunteers from the community with international students and encourages these “friendship partners” to get together at least once a month for a semester.
Through the project, students will be able to spread knowledge about their native cultures while gaining first-hand experience with American customs.
“This is where Americans have the greatest opportunity to be diplomats,” said David Currey, director of student and scholar services. “They can learn about international cultures and also reduce misconceptions about American culture.”
Although other universities and organizations have implemented similar projects, this fall marks the beginning of American LIFE at MU. So far, 80 of the 200 international students new to MU this year have applied to the program.
About 40 potential volunteers have attended orientation sessions this month like the one Thursday night. Currey said he hopes to see the interest grow. He is working to make it possible for volunteers to sign up online.
Although Americans are busy people, Currey said, he thinks the flexible, short-term format of LIFE will allow more people to get involved.
The participants come from Columbia and other mid-Missouri towns and range widely in age. Some are older, while others are young parents who hope their families will engage in activities with the students.
Additionally, several American students from MU have expressed interest in the program. Kimberley Potterfield, a senior Chinese major who attended Thursday night’s orientation, would like to practice her language skills and make friends.
“I can maybe improve my Chinese, if I get a Chinese student. That’d be nice,” she said. “But I’m mainly doing it just for fun.”
Martina Kaeberlein, a 23-year-old graduate student from Germany, said it hasn’t been hard for her to adjust to life in Columbia since arriving three weeks ago. Still, she has not had much of a chance to interact with Americans yet.
Currey said he thinks the program will help.
“Another objective of the program is to be a social network of support for students and to smooth out rough edges of their cultural transition,” he said.
Although the program will help acquaint her with U.S. culture, Kaeberlein is most interested in the social aspects of LIFE.
“I don’t really have a lot of expectations,” she said about the project. “I just signed up because I wanted to make new friends.”