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Long-Distance Dickinsonians Make Connections Through Friendship Family Program

Nguyen, friendship family program

Trung Nguyen '19 and his Friendship Family as they prepare their Thanksgiving meal. Photo courtesy of Trung Nguyen.

Friendship Family program aims to create a home away from home for international, long-distance domestic students

by David Blosser '19

Trung Nguyen '19 and his Friendship Family as they prepare their Thanksgiving meal. Photo courtesy of Trung Nguyen.

Trung Nguyen '19 and his Friendship Family as they prepare their Thanksgiving meal. Photo courtesy of Trung Nguyen.

Traveling from the fast-paced streets of London to small-town Carlisle was not easy for Natasha Di Centa ’21 (undeclared) when she chose to attend Dickinson—7,200 miles away from home. And though adjusting to college life was challenging, she found something that made her transition to college more welcoming: Dickinson’s Friendship Family Program

Established in 2014, the Friendship Family Program meaningfully connects first-year students to members of the Dickinson and Carlisle communities. The program is geared toward international residents and domestic students who live more than 500 miles from campus. 

“Being a part of this program has been wonderful,” says Brina Stow ’22 (undeclared), a domestic student from Taos, New Mexico. “For both my mom and I, having my friendship family has been a pretty big relief, especially since I don’t have any family out here.” 

After students and potential hosts submit an application, the program staff pairs those who seem like a good match. “This year, we were especially lucky because we were able to attract more host families from the Carlisle community, while also attracting employees of the college,” says Assistant Dean of Student Leadership and New Student Programs Josh Eisenberg, noting that there are currently 46 friendship families. 

“I really enjoy seeing Dickinson, central Pennsylvania and the U.S. through my student’s eyes,” says Director of Financial Aid Leah Young. After learning that her Vietnamese student missed Pho, Young and her spouse took her to their favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Mechanicsburg. “We learned the proper way to eat Vietnamese noodle soup because, unsurprisingly, we discovered that we were not eating it the traditional way.” 

Throughout the academic year, the Division of Student Life sponsors events for hosts and students, which range from dessert receptions and cultural pot-luck dinners to gatherings at campus events and meals in the Dining Hall. Beyond these activities, it is up to the pair to determine how often they meet up. In the past, hosts and students have attended professional and college athletics events, celebrated religious holidays and embarked on adventures in and outside of Carlisle. 

During Thanksgiving break last year, Di Centa packed her bags for a weekend trip to the nation’s capital with her friendship family. “While it wasn’t what I was initially expecting, after visiting multiple museums and historic landmarks, I fell in love with the city,” admits Di Centa. “It was also during my birthday weekend, so my hosts just happened to leave a birthday cake and card in my room! It was a lovely surprise.” 

Now in her third year, Simona Bajgai ’20 (biochemistry & molecular biology) has spent her time in the program engaging meaningfully in conversations revolving around intercultural competence. “The connection that I have established between my friendship family and my home country has been incredible,” says Bajgai, a native of Nepal. “They are always very enthusiastic to know more about my country, my food and my culture, and I’m as equally enthusiastic to share and learn about theirs.” 

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Published October 15, 2018