The University of Iowa

In the news: Friends Without Borders connects international and domestic students

August 24th, 2018

Emily Campbell and Victoria Minerva sit with their jack-o-lanterns. An International Programs initiative that the two participated in pairs international and domestic students to forge new connections and lasting friendships. Photo courtesy of Emily Campbell.

By Lee Hermiston, Iowa Now 

Victoria Minerva and Emily Campbell grew up thousands of miles apart, but an initiative in the University of Iowa’s International Programs designed to connect international and domestic students brought them together.

In fall 2017, Campbell, then a sophomore from Bondurant, Iowa, majoring in accounting and minoring in Chinese, and Minerva, then a first-year student from Tangerang, Indonesia, studying neuroscience, signed up to be part of International Programs’ Friends Without Borders program, which pairs international and domestic students and encourages them to spend time together and learn about each other’s cultures.

Campbell, who had twice traveled to China, says she wanted to connect with other international students. Minerva wanted to make more acquaintances on campus.

“I just thought I should make more friends and meet more people,” Minerva says.

The two were paired during a pizza party to kick off the fall 2017 semester. Campbell says they were complete strangers, but quickly formed a bond.

“Before you knew it, we turned from strangers to really good friends,” she says.

The Friends Without Borders program began four years ago. Before that, the UI had a Peer Assistant Program that paired one or two domestic students with a small group of international students to coordinate activities, such as attending an event at Hancher Auditorium or an Iowa City farmers’ market. The UI also had a program known as International@Iowa, in which domestic students mentored incoming international students, says Lee Seedorff, senior associate director for International Student and Scholar Services. However, the feeling was that International@Iowa was too one-sided, casting domestic students in the role of helpers and international students as those needing help.

“There’s nothing wrong with students helping each other,” Seedorff says. “But what we really wanted was for all of the students to be on equal footing, learn from each other, develop friendships, and have fun together.”