Studying in a brand new country can be challenging and sometimes lonely if students don’t know anyone in an unfamiliar place. However, Peoria Area Friends of International Students (PAFIS) works to pair international students with local residents in order to facilitate relationships.
The program started in 1957 by Bradley professor Lawrence Lew.
Marjorie Woods Reynolds was also involved with the program during her lifetime. She left behind money for scholarships that are now given out every year.
“She went to many different countries and did not stay in any hotel, not a single time,” Laura Corpuz, Inter Library Loan Coordinator and PAFIS treasurer and membership co-chair said. “She went around the world and she stayed with the students, she made friends with when they were here at Bradley.”
International students in Peoria can be paired with friendship partners. These are individuals or families in the area that can take students on tours, visit sites, go shopping and more.
“I think in Peoria, we have this deep need to welcome everybody and anybody to our community,” Randy Mogler, PAFIS friendship partner coordinator, said. “We’re saying we’re open to you and I think it’s a real important thing. I don’t think the students at Bradley, the American
students, realize the richness that’s possible with interactions with international students.”
Many PAFIS board members have lived internationally themselves. Corpuz came from the Philippines, Mogler studied in Japan and president Helja Antola Crowe was originally from Finland.
“I know what it is like to come to a place where you know nobody; where you’re just learning the language and trying to get the ropes of the place,” Crowe, director for the center of teaching excellence in learning, said. “And so, we are here really to welcome all visitors who are coming here as students of the American culture… We can learn with and from each other so much just by being open to their experiences are and by developing perspectives.”
This year, there are 150 international students from 40 different countries. This number is lower than in past years due to students having difficulties with visas.
“We have [fewer] international students because of, you can say [the] Trump administration,” civil engineering graduate student Abhishek Bhandari said. “We have a long process. We have to apply for a visa, face an interview; actually, I got denied on my first try and got a visa on the second try.”
Once international students enter the United States for the first time, they experience some cultural differences. Industrial engineering graduate student Pream Nath said he noticed traffic and weather differences between Peoria and his city of Chennai in southern India.
“I don’t see anybody on the streets. Nobody walks. Everybody goes in cars and there we don’t have that,” Nath said. “This is our winter temperature. It gets even hotter for us, but then our winters are very mild.”
PAFIS enjoyed their fall picnic social last Sunday and will host a Harvest Dinner in November.