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International community host program ready for another successful semester

International student orientation includes a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

When the application deadline comes and goes on Friday, Sept. 21, Western Carolina University’s International Community Host Program, also known as “I-Host,” will be off to a successful start.

The program that matches faculty and staff with international students and scholars for social activities is already close to full engagement, said Kaitlin Ritchie, assistant director of international student and scholar services in WCU’s Office of International Programs and Services.

“This is the third year for the I-Host Program, and we are excited there has been so much interest,” Ritchie said. “We love the amazing support and participation we’ve had for our student and campus programs. While we are close to full participation for fall 2018, those who have interest to participate but aren’t matched at this time may have an opportunity in the spring. A new application cycle will start in early December. Additionally, there are many other ways to be involved with international students and events through our office. People may explore them at our website.”

WCU welcomes more than 200 international students and scholars each year from more than 35 countries.

Participants are expected to spend time together at least once a month, whether meeting for coffee on campus, setting an extra plate for a family dinner, involvement in favorite events or hobbies, or other activities. Matches are based on similar interests and compatibility. I-Host is designed to promote friendship and cultural exchange between faculty and staff and the international student population, Ritchie said.

Taylor Dodge, an area coordinator in WCU’s Department of Residence Living, participated in the program last year and was paired with a student from England. “I was excited to participate in the I-Host program because it’s an opportunity to strengthen a one-on-one relationship with students from different backgrounds that could lead to mutual learning. I studied abroad myself in college, and I know how important it was to have people at my host institution who were able to give me recommendations and help me navigate foreign concepts.”

Ritchie noted the program is also open to community members. “We are always trying to find more opportunities for international students to connect with the local area and regional culture, as well as help facilitate community engagement with WCU’s international student population and cultural events on campus,” she said.

Community members Ray and Beckie Barber of Sylva have enjoyed their experience with I-Host. “It has been a pleasure to be part of this program for the past two years,” Ray Barber said. “It has been enlightening and enjoyable for us to meet students and scholars from all over the world. We now have lifelong friends from Saudi Arabia, China, Spain, France, Germany, Indonesia, Iran and the Netherlands.”

The program is free to join, with no financial expectations or obligations. Hosts are paired with an international student or scholar until they have completed their studies at WCU. This could range from a semester to four years. Faculty and staff may indicate timeframe preferences on the application, Ritchie said.

The program enabled Teresa Albiez, a student from Germany, to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner with her I-Host match, Rachel Walker, director of WCU’s graduate recruitment and marketing. “I enjoyed the time at Western even more because of her,” Albiez said. “We even went to an amazing concert in Asheville together, one of my favorite memories. We’ve had some great conversations about cultures, politics and German food.”

To apply for the I-Host Program, go to this webpage. For more information, call 828-227-7494.

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