In the early 1970s, ladies of the Methodist Church circles decided to start an outreach program particularly for international student wives, who were often isolated and lonely. Later this grew into the International Women's Association, including international women students. Monthly social events hosted by local women in the community enabled the students and wives to get out into the community and become better acquainted. Informative programs provided useful tips about living in America. Hobby groups developed, like needle craft and art and cooking. Through this association, some warm and enduring friendships developed and became the nucleus of the present day Friendship Families Program.
In 1991, the Associated Students of the University of Idaho (ASUI) and the International Programs Office (IPO) developed a collaborative program, the International Friendship Association (IFA). At first it was a part time job. Jo Ann Trail was hired to be the first coordinator (1991-1998), followed by Stephanie Kilgore (1999- 2000), and then by Denise "Glen" Kauffman (2000-2013). Their mission was to create more awareness and interaction between people of different cultures through a variety of activities and events.
During the 1990s, the International Afternoons of Culture, Costume and Cuisine were very popular. In 1993 an ASUI senator and student from Palestine/Jordan started the international flag project, which now boasts flags from 160 countries. Their home is the International Ballroom in the Student Union Building (SUB) where they are on display. Donors include groups and clubs on campus, ASUI, IPO, church groups, individuals in the community and friendship families.
The heart of the International Friendship Association (IFA) has always been the Friendship Families Program (FFP), which matches students with individuals or families in the community. People with similar interests are matched whenever possible. They agree to meet at least three to four times during the semester, to share photos of their families, listen to music, participate in everyday family activities, like cooking favorite foods together. Attending school programs and ball games can be fun, as well as going to a UI event together. Picnics and drives in the countryside are popular, as many international students do not have cars. It is a great way for Americans to rediscover their own country, especially scenic North Idaho, through the eyes of an international student.
The relationships between the friendship families and their students grow in many different directions. The families sometimes arrange for their student to give a presentation at their children's school, or to do service in clubs or at church. Some of the friendships have endured for years: Americans have attended weddings in their student's homeland, children of former students come to the UI for study, thus maintaining the tie of friendship.
At the beginning of each semester, International Programs holds a welcome reception to introduce the new international students to the community, where friendship families, students, and other interested community members get together for an evening of fellowship.
Contributed by: Jo Ann Trail