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Karen Sue Bolm coordinates outreach and publicity for International Friends, Inc., a nonprofit, community-based program that brings together Tucson community members and international students from the UA to learn, share and become friends. Bolm is in her fourth year with International Friends and also serves as the secretary of the board. She is currently hosting students from Japan, India and China. International Friends is in its 52nd year and is looking for new volunteers to be "friendship partners" for incoming students in the upcoming spring semester. For more information or to apply, call 621-4627, e-mail or visit

Tell me about International Friends.

It's a group of volunteers from the Tucson area who are organized to be friends of international students from the University of Arizona. The idea is to pair the student with someone from the community. The person from the community and the student both agree to have a relationship for at least one year. Whether it's continued after that year depends on the people involved. ... Students take part in several different things in the community. For example, they need to attend an election, participate in a government meeting and go to a school and talk about their country. ... It makes them part of the community. It shows them how our government works, how our schools work. ... They need certain requirements, and once those requirements are met, the student goes to a City Council meeting and receives a certificate from the mayor.

How many people are in the program?

(More than) 100 students, and then there are friends. It's not always a 1-on-1 (arrangement). Some people in the community have more than one student.

Where are the students from primarily?

Most of the students are from Asia. There are a lot from China, India and Japan. Those are the three main countries. Those are the students who are furthest away from their families and can use local support.

Do the students need to join the program during a particular year?

They can join any year. We suggest that they become part of the program their first year here, although some have transferred from other parts of the country. So you get students who have been in the country but are new to Tucson. And other students have joined when they heard their friends are having such a good time. They want to be part of it, too.

How often do a friend and community member meet?

We ask that the student and the friend get together at least once a month. It isn't important what they do so much, as long as they make contact. You can meet your student for a cup of coffee or do something more formal, like a concert or play. Just as long as there is a regular interchange.

What are some of the formal activities held each year?

We have a luncheon during the orientation week. In the fall, we have a reception where people meet their assigned students. In the spring, we have a potluck toward the end of the school year. That's always a lot of fun. The students bring things from their own countries, and there is a wide variety of wonderful food. One of the things we suggest is that the host family and student get together to cook something for that.

How many new community members are you looking for?

Our goal is 60 new hosts in 60 days. That's to get ready for the incoming spring semester group of students. We will start the assignments in January. We take part in the orientation for new students and have a booth there and hand out applications to the students. We have an orientation luncheon. As the applications come in, our coordinators try to match people with community members. ... We are definitely looking for host families, and it is a wonderful experience. We need a lot of them.

What have you learned from hosting students?

As I get to know the students, I see that we are much more alike than different. They are well-traveled. I guess they break the stereotype that you have of the people from their country.

What do you enjoy most about being an International Friend?

The opportunity to do things with young people. I think the International Friends program is ideal for parents with young children who want their children to be exposed to different cultures. I think International Friends allows people in the Tucson community to experience the world without traveling. For those of us who travel, it keeps up going while we aren't. And for older couples whose children are out of the house, it provides an opportunity to enjoy young people again.


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