A friend can make a world of difference to international students visiting Central Michigan University’s campus for the first time. CMU Honors Program students are happy to provide this support to their foreign counterparts as they navigate unfamiliar surroundings, delve into American culture and experience new customs.
CMU’s International Peer Partner Program pairs exchange students with CMU students as they adjust to campus and practice English as a second language for the semester or year they are in Mount Pleasant. Twenty-one students from the Netherlands, China, Japan and Germany, among others, and 16 Central students are involved this year.
“This is my first time in America, and I wanted to experience American culture outside of school,” said Chinese foreign exchange student Ni Jia Nan. “We play sports, try new food, hang out, and we’ve become really close friends.”
More than 100 exchange students and CMU honors students have participated since the program started five years ago.
“The Office of International Affairs recognizes that direct student to student programs, such as the International Peer Partners, provide meaningful insight into life in the U.S. beyond the classroom,” said Director of International Student and Scholar Services Tracy Nakajima. “The IPP provides opportunities for cultural exchange and the building of lifelong friendships. This is at the core of international education and what we strive to provide for all students here at CMU.”
In turn, the program provides the opportunity for CMU students to learn about their partner’s home country and see the mid-Michigan community from a different perspective. A large number of these students either plan to study abroad or have studied abroad in the past. The program helps them maintain a global perspective.
“I’ve always been interested in different cultures, and I’m half Chinese, so I thought it would be a good way for me to practice my Chinese, learn more about my own Chinese culture and for them to practice their English,” said Cydney Vanhoven, an East Grand Rapids sophomore.
The pairs meet weekly to chat, whether it is studying over coffee or playing volleyball at the Student Activity Center. To further immerse in U.S. culture, the Honors Program also hosts a monthly social for all students. This fall, students participated in pumpkin carving before Halloween, a tailgate over Homecoming weekend and traveled to Chicago.
In early December, students visited Painted Turtle, a pottery studio in downtown Mount Pleasant, to paint holiday ornaments. They learned how the painting, glazing and firing process works and were then invited to create their own. These socials are unique activities that exchange students might otherwise not experience.
The program began when an honors student returned from a study abroad experience and felt a need for exchange students at CMU to have structured peer relationships.
“These partnerships allow students to say ‘Whoa, you also like to drink coffee? You hike, too? You also like Pokémon Go?’ Those are the connections that lead to global citizenship,” said Gaylord senior and program coordinator Ian Callison.
The friendships often continue even after the exchange student leaves Mount Pleasant.
“After students return to their home country we often hear that they still keep up with their peer partner. They email, Skype or, if they’re traveling in that area, meet up with their peer partner. We love seeing that,” said Honors Program Associate Director Judy Idema.