LuAnn Haley is the co-chair of International Friends of Tucson, a 25-year-old community-based organization that pairs international students attending the UA with local hosts for camaraderie and an introduction to Old Pueblo culture.
How does the process work?
We greet all the incoming international students at orientation. They have a separate orientation on campus every semester. We sit there at a table and try to get students to become interested in our organization.
How long do the guests stay with their host families?
It's not a live-in program. This is a program that provides a host family for direction, friendship and camaraderie while they're here. They don't actually stay with one. All the students are college students and they stay in their college dorms and/or apartments. We have what we call a one-year commitment to be their international friend for the year (but) it's not like after the year they end; we seem to create some friendships that extend even beyond their college years.
Who coordinates the program?
We have a board, and I'm the co-chair. We work in conjunction with the international student office on campus. We're not actually a part of that. That's the International Student Program and Services on Tyndall. That's where all the international students get almost all their information and help. We're a community board that's sort of a branch of that university program.
How does one become a member of your organization?
For a community person who'd like to be a host family or a host person—it doesn't have to be a family—for an incoming international student, we direct them to our website, ifriendstucson.org. It's a very friendly website where a person who wants to be a host can sign up. And then when we get the new students—for example, our students will be coming in Jan. 8 for the next semester—we'll let all of our hosts know by email that there's a new group of students online. They can go ahead and start the process of picking individual students. We give them information about various students and they can connect with one. We look at the match, approve it and send out the contacts.
Can a host entertain more than one student?
You can host more students. I always like to take two because it's nice to have a couple of students to do things with. For example, every semester we'll go to the Desert Museum and I always have them over for Thanksgiving. If you're going to pick up one, you might as well pick up two.
Are these students from all around the world or just certain places?
All around the world. Any international student coming into the university. I would say, though, that with the technical areas of the university being well respected, we have a lot of students from China and India coming into the computer engineering and computer sciences programs. We've had students from Spain, South America. We have students from different Middle Eastern countries, some from Africa. But the primary source for students appears to be China and India.
What are some of the student's favorite Tucson activities?
We always have one event each semester ... what we call a roundup. It involves local churches. And we have a picnic in the spring at Reid Park. Other than those two group events, the host will take the students to the Desert Museum. They always love that. Hiking is another big thing. I just took my students to Sabino Canyon. I also just took my students from Spain to Sax Xavier Mission, and they loved that because of the Spanish tradition. It just depends on your students. I had one student from Switzerland who was a hockey lover, so I took them to a hockey game. But everybody goes to the Desert Museum.