Group welcomes international students to Texas
For the past 12 years, volunteers with International Cultural Exchange have provided an opportunity for visiting college students from around the world to become better acclimated in America and Houston.
"We started out being Friendship Partners at the University of Houston about 20 years ago, and then we realized there were international students in our own neighborhood," said Janet Giesen, president and founder.
Although volunteers do not host the students at their homes like a typical foreign exchange program, the organization works with students from the Lone Star College System's six campuses in Harris and Montgomery counties and hosts various parties and events throughout the school year.
"I've lived in another country before, and it affects the way you feel about the home country," Giesen said. "When they're nice to you, it changes your attitude and you have a good feeling about that country. On the flip side, we Americans need some education, so we exchange cultures and learn things."
Nancilea and Matt Foster have volunteered with International Cultural Exchange for about seven years, either helping out at events or hosting a game night and potluck dinner at their home.
"When I was in college, I got involved with an organization that paired international students with Americans, and I really enjoyed all the friendships I made with international students on campus," Nancilea said. "When I moved back to The Woodlands, I wanted to find something like that, so we made some phone calls and got hooked up with International Cultural Exchange, and it was a perfect fit for husband and me."
Most of the activities put on by International Cultural Exchange volunteers take place during the academic year, and LSCS students have the chance to attend sports games in Houston or dinners with local volunteers.
"Our organization is about friendship and exchanging cultures," Nancilea Foster said. "The idea is to create an environment where international students can get to know American families and Americans can get to know students from all over the world."
Two of the biggest surprises for the international students who arrive to LSC are typically the heat and the friendliness of Texans, Giesen said.
"If you say to them, 'Welcome to Houston, I'm glad you're here,' they almost cry," she said.
International Cultural Exchange typically hosts a graduation party to celebrate the end of the year and a Welcome to Houston party in the fall.
Volunteers with the nonprofit can help with any number of things and activities, ranging from attending events to helping students feel welcome to hosting dinners at their homes.
"That's what the organization is all about—having American volunteers who can connect on a relational level with the international students," Nancilea said. "These international students studying in the U.S. are going to be the leaders when they go back home, so that means building friendships and relationships is so important for American diplomacy."
International Cultural Exchange, 281-655-0770, www.internationalculturalexchange.org