When international students first come to MSOE, they are immersed in the culture of a country different from theirs in a variety of ways. This can be both a thrilling and a nerve-wracking experience. Soon, they will meet many new people, make friends, have fun experiences, and embark on exciting adventures. However, they will also need to be able to quickly adapt to a new language, a new culture, and a new lifestyle. Culture shock is often a symptom of this barrage of unfamiliar experiences. Students begin to feel vulnerable and miss their family, friends, and home. Unfortunately, this all could negatively impact the inherently positive and enriching experience of living and studying in a new country.

This issue is addressed by MSOE’s Bridging Borders Program. Bridging Borders provides interested international students the choice either to be matched with an MSOE student, called a “Conversation Partner,” or with an MSOE staff or faculty member, called a “Friendship Family.” Both of these options allow students a chance to learn about another country or culture and to receive assistance with adjusting to life in America from a friendly and helpful MSOE participant.

The matching process begins anew every quarter with an application on which international students identify their preferences and interests. These are then used to match the applicant with another MSOE student or a faculty or staff member with which he or she would get along. During the third week of the quarter, an “icebreaker” meeting is scheduled through which the matched companions meet and get to know each other. The partners then arrange days and times to meet throughout the rest of the quarter.

If a student desires a more relaxed relationship with a companion he or she can simply hang out with and play video games or accompany to parties and other social events, the “Conversation Partner” option is ideal. The international student who chooses this option is matched with a current MSOE student from the United States. Students are encouraged to meet with their partners once a week in order to not only practice conversing in English but to also learn about and experience how a domestic MSOE student lives, works, and plays.

If the international student prefers a family setting, he or she can choose the “Friendship Family” option and get matched with an MSOE faculty or staff member. The focus of this option is more family-oriented, and the student is able to participate in such events as holiday celebrations and dinners at the volunteer’s home. The student is encouraged to meet with their faculty or staff companion at least two times a month.

The program has had great results for everyone involved. Nasser Thani is an international student from Kuwait who appreciates all the help Bridging Borders has provided him. He particularly enjoyed going out to restaurants with his partner and said, “We had good times talking about things I didn’t know about Milwaukee. The program helped me so much. I learned a lot of things about the USA and that has helped me in my life.”

One volunteer said, “I’m having a wonderful time with my partner! We try and meet at least once a week, and as of right now we have gotten coffee, talked, and even took a Zumba class together. I think this is a wonderful program and benefits so many people, not just the international students.”

Bridging Borders currently has 60 participants: 33 international students and 27 volunteers. Students who apply for the program come from all over the world, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, China, Dominican Republic, and India. Though volunteers for Bridging Borders are currently limited to MSOE faculty, staff, and students, there are plans to expand the program beyond MSOE to encourage an outside perspective.

If you are interested in participating in this program, please contact Mark Fischer at fischerm@msoe.edu or call the ESL office at (414) 277-7232.