My friend Kat studied abroad in Ecuador in the fall and Chile in the spring last year. While in Chile, she decided to take part in a program called "TANDEM", where she was given a Chilean student partner who she could hang out with and experience the culture through, as well as practice the Spanish language. Though she was not best friends with her partner, it was someone Kat was able to say "Hello" to or eat lunch with. Her TANDEM partner also helped her find her way around the city, and attended cultural events, like shows at the theater, with Kat. It helped to integrate Kat more fully into the Chilean student population - one that was much larger than our student population of 2000 at St. Mike's.
When Kat came back this year, she realized that she was a senior, but she did not know any of the international students who attended our school. She approached Peggy Imai, the director of Study Abroad (and my boss) who then recruited me and her other work study student Larissa to help Kat in an idea she had. Kat wanted to create a program much like the one she did in Chile on our campus, but she wanted it to be student-run. This program would come to be called P.A.L.S. (Partners Applying Language Socially).
The goal of this program is to better integrate international students on our campus by pairing them with a native U.S. student with similar interests who can be their friend for however long the international students attend St. Mike's. We recommend that the partners meet at least once per week for an hour minimum, but we will not keep track of the hours spent with the partners. It is up to the students to plan times to spend with each other. If they want to spend more time together, that's even better! The partners can spend that time doing whatever they want, from studying and eating lunch to visiting Lake Champlain and going apple picking.
Kat, Larissa and I all hope that this program will give international students a stronger tie to our native US students and that learning can happen on both ends. We're trying to get students who have been abroad more involved as well since they also know what it feels like to be isolated in a completely unfamiliar country. This will help them relate to our international students more fully. Through my almost four years here, I've made a few Japanese friends at St. Mike's. I have had some of my favorite experiences with them, and I still keep in touch with both girls. I think that making friends with international students is one of the best experiences a student can have. It is a great opportunity to share your own culture while learning about a culture completely different from your own. Plus, it's awesome to keep in contact afterward.
We visited a few of the international student classes, and many of them are very excited to get started with P.A.L.S. This week, we will be sorting the P.A.L.S. and choosing partners based on similar interests. I am so excited to make a new friend and to help others make new friends too! We were also featured in an article in the Defender, the school's newspaper.
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