July 20, 2018 | ° F

Students buddy up at international speed friending event

Photo by Edwin Gano |

Sometimes, making friends at a new university can be even more difficult than the calculus classes and physics lectures on your schedule.

On Friday, Sept. 11, the Rutgers Center for Global Services kicked off their International Friendship Program with the first speed friending event — a play on speed dating — of the semester. 

With more than 50 attendees, speed friending was a resounding success, said Katsumi Kishida, an international student adviser at the Center for Global Services. Only about 30 students had registered initially, but many dropped by and were warmly welcomed to participate.

“The International Friendship Program is a program we run out of Global Services, and the main mission is to create partnerships/friendships between international students and domestic students,” she said.

The speed friending event is intended to bridge culture gaps and facilitating language exchanges, Kashida said. The goal after an hour and a half is for most students to find a language partner with whom to practice with throughout the semester.

“A lot of international students want to brush up their English and a lot of domestic students are interested in learning another language,” she said. “The hope is that they find each other and create a partnership throughout the semester.”

Kishida's favorite aspect of the program is seeing friendships bloom, and she believes the International Friendship Program can be a tool for that. 

For the future, Kishida hopes to reserve a larger room for the event in order to better accommodate the overflow of students. With such a large turnout on Friday, the program organizers will need to adapt future meetings to the growing local and international student bodies.

“ ... We need to get a larger space for next time so they can move around comfortably ... and maybe a microphone or a whistle to let people know when to move and so we don’t end up losing our voices,” she said.

Because the majority of international students have just recently arrived, many of them have not had the chance to assimilate and meet people in a relaxed non-academic setting, said Kim Su, a first-year master's student in the Graduate School of Education.

“I really like it ... for (many) international students, we came here four weeks ago, so we (haven’t) really had the opportunity to meet a lot of friends,” she said. “This really helps provide the platform to allow us to meet other students.”

Shan Meisner, an IFP volunteer and graduate student in College Student Affairs, said she always had a big interest in meeting people from around the world.

“I think there is a huge appeal to doing a speed-friending event,” Meisner said. “They are really popular right now. It just cuts to the chase ... What do you need? Friends. How fast do you need them? Quickly.”

Having majored in German studies and minored in Asian studies during her undergraduate career, she wanted to create an environment where international students could step outside of their comfort zone and integrate with the local students.

“I love being able to meet with international students and help facilitate events where they can meet domestic students, feel they are actually (experiencing American culture), and not just staying in a bubble only in a bubble with people from China or India or wherever,” she said.

Liyang Wang, a first-year doctoral student studying mechanical and aerospace engineering, said he really liked the whole event because it gave him a great opportunity to meet with domestic students and practice his English, although he wished he had more time to speak with potential new friends.

“Three minutes might be a little short,” he said. “I suggest the scale can be (made) smaller, so each pair can have more time to communicate ... with each other.”

According to the International Friendship Program's official website, the organization aims to reduce cultural barriers and promote cross-cultural understanding and sensitivity. The organization was established more than 20 years ago, and since then, has grown to include both members from the local New Jersey community and the wider international community.

Aside from the IFP speed-friending event, The Center for Global Services also hosts a number of fun, social forums that enable students to continue their cross-cultural exchanges, Kishida said. The IFP conversation hour, for example, helps to create a “time and space” for students to mingle and foster friendships.

Another event IFP hosts is a Thanksgiving Host Dinner program in order to match domestic students and their families with international students, Kishida said. 

“Thanksgiving (break) is too short for them to go home, so most of them end up staying on campus ... but in America, Thanksgiving is about family," he said.

Francesca Falzon

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