Making Friends - George Ball Court
Una Taylor ’17 of the United Kingdom and Joyce Fogg recently enjoyed each other’s company at a Whitman women’s basketball game.

The Friendship Families program at Whitman matches international students with host families.

By Samantha Grainger-Shuba '16

Though her home is in China, Vicky Su ’16 has a family in Walla Walla.

Through the Friendship Families program, community members are matched with international students to provide them with a home away from home. Each family has an informal relationship with their student, inviting them to spend time together off campus.

Su was matched with Amber and Squire Broel her first year.

“I love my friendship family. They are not only my friends, but also my American family. Although we don’t see each other every week, we keep in touch and always hang out once in a while,” she said. “It is quite nice to know that someone cares about me without any other purpose but love.”

Su recounted an experience she had with her friendship family, in which she had some difficulties getting back home to China, and had to delay her trip by two weeks. The Broels immediately took her in for that time.

“I have to say that this friendship family program is awesome and I am so fortunate to be a part of it!” Su said.

This February, Whitman’s Intercultural Center held a celebration in honor of 40 years of the Friendship Families program. Many host families from the Walla Walla community helped in that celebration.

Jayne McCarthy, who has hosted international students with her husband, Jim ’63, for 32 years, says that they are “better people for having participated in the Friendship Family program. I would encourage anyone, with young families or just two of you, to take advantage of a goldmine here in Walla Walla,” McCarthy said. “Whitman recruits the top students from these countries, and one can’t help but benefit from the opportunity to host one of them. If you think you don’t have time for this, think again, because this opportunity doesn’t present itself often.”

Intercultural Student and Scholar Adviser Kris Barry heads the program. She said, “Friendship Families is an opportunity for international education through personal contact between international students and American families. The goal of this program is, through friendship, to develop mutual understanding of diverse cultures.

“Sometimes students never leave Whitman when they come here, and that can be really hard,” Barry said. “So I encourage families to include their student in family traditions like carving pumpkins or even family dinners.”

While searching through old files, Barry recently found records dating the Friendship Families program to 1974. Upon further research, she discovered that the program really took off when Whitman alumnus Mark Francis ’77 became Intercultural Director in 1980, and it has continued to grow since then.

“We’re really just starting to put this history together, and it’s quite interesting,” Barry said. “But since we’ve been able to find that there’s been some sort of host program for 40 years now, it’s pretty impressive. It’s time to celebrate it.”

For many host families, the program provides an opportunity for cultural exchange.

Sandra Cannon and her husband, Glenn Morrison, have been involved with the program since 1992.

“The Whitman Friendship Families program is an excellent way for Walla Walla families to expand our knowledge of different cultures and offer students a family contact when they are so far away from home,” Cannon said.

Sue and Mike Gillespie, participants in the Friendship Families program since 1977, have hosted 24 students from across the world.

Sue said, “They have come from Malaysia, China, Japan, Peru, Chile, France, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Slovakia, Uganda, Israel and Vietnam. They have enriched our lives beyond measure, and we have kept in contact with some of them.”

She said, “The students have been appreciative, flexible, enthusiastic, with keen minds and a love of learning.”