Suzanne Dassenko – FFIS Volunteer, Steering Committee Member and Secretary

Suzanne & Bill Dassenko

Suzanne Dassenko and her husband Bill joined FFIS in 2010 when they hosted a young lady from Singapore before the winter term started.  She joined the Steering Committee in 2011 and has been a very active member and volunteer since.

My friend, who hosted students for 35+ years, told me I’d like it and that I’d be good at it,” said Suzanne.  “She was right!”

In less than eight years, Bill and Suzanne have hosted more than 30 students from Singapore, Denmark, Finland, Germany, France, Kenya, China, Taiwan, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nepal, Brazil, Turkey, Japan, India, Morocco, Ukraine, and Catalonia.

Suzanne is a native Oregonian from Bandon who moved to Lane County in 1992.  She is now retired after working jobs as a graphic designer, research & development for a publishing company, editor/assistant editor of several publications, and as a teacher from kindergarten through 10th grade and at the university level.  She holds several degrees, including an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language.

Photo Collage for Posting

What do you enjoy most about being an FFIS Volunteer? Creating a welcoming and safe place for international students and learning about the different countries and cultures. Plus, the more than 30 students we have hosted, have helped me to adjust to having an “empty nest” and let me continue to be a Mom!

Why did you join the Steering Committee? I was at first curious as to what it was all about and then got “sucked in!” It’s a great group of people to work with and rewarding to make a difference in so many student’s lives.

What are some of your favorite memories of international students that you’ve met? I love having students sitting around my table, enjoying a meal and conversation together, who are from countries from all over the world.  One student brought us a special food treat from his country, only to discover that it is also a treat in two other countries on the other side of the world—just has a different name.

And it’s always fun to get reactions from students when they first arrive at our log house out in the woods. Many of them live in high-rise apartments in the city—so a totally new experience for them. And of course, my husband enjoys showing the photos of some of the critters we’ve had visit our yard in recent years—raccoon, fox, cougar and bear.

We have also hosted some of the parents of our international students. Even though most of them speak very little English, it has been a fun experience to have them as guests in our home.

An added bonus is being invited to several weddings as special guests – one in Singapore and one in Ecuador. And I have several international grandchildren that have arrived or will soon, that I hope to visit in the coming year.

Anything else that you would like to share about your FFIS experiences?

Being an FFIS host family has enlarged our heart and shrunk our world. I’d recommend it to anyone!

Tomomi Kurosaki – Lane Community College Liaison to FFIS

Tomomi Kurosaki

My name is Tomomi Kurosaki (黒崎友美) and I was born and raised in Japan.

Since I was little, my dream was to learn English. So, I decided to move to the U.S. right after graduating from high school. I took some ESL (English as a Second Language) courses and completed an Associate degree in Hawaii. I then transferred to Oregon State University where I earned three degrees – B.S. in Interior Design, B.S. in Housing Studies, and a Master’s in College Student Services and Administration.

When came to the U.S., I felt firsthand the struggles and complications that an international student experiences, as I was an international student myself.  A process that may appear to be routine for a traditional student gets exponentially complicated if the student is an international student.

Knowing how frustrating it may be for international students to apply for admission, acquire housing, schedule classes, and adjust to a foreign country in an unfamiliar language gives me the patience and ability to empathize with the students while addressing their needs.  While in attendance at colleges in the U.S., I was very fortunate that the staff provided me with knowledgeable and tremendous support.

I would like to attribute much of the success of my academic career and adjustment to living in the United States to that quality of advising and assistance, so I chose to pursue my career in this field! I am very fortunate that now I support international students at Lane Community College (LCC). This is my dream come true. I currently work as a Lead International Academic & Retention Advisor and help international students meet their academic goals from the time when they arrive on the campus until they graduate.

I joined FFIS as the LCC liaison last year, and it has been very fun to support international students in the community and encourage community members to be more culturally involved. FFIS offers various opportunities for communities to interact with international students and diversify their experience. I highly encourage everyone to join FFIS!

Register on eScrip to help FFIS with its fundraising efforts!

eScrip

You can help FFIS raise needed funds at no cost to you on eScrip!  Just follow the directions below to help contribute:

  • Register your credit and/or debit card on the e-scrip website denoting FFIS as your organization of choice. Go to www.escrip.com and click on Sign up.
  • While you’re there, check out the list of participating merchants and restaurants.
  • When you make a purchase with your registered card, the participating merchants automatically contributes a percentage to FFIS. The percentage varies by business and the amount spent.
  • E-Scrip takes 15%. The rest goes to FFIS by electronic funds transfer.

FFIS is run entirely by volunteers with only some financial support from the University of Oregon.  Your contributions help to support our programs that match international students with local community members for friendship and cultural understanding.

Help FFIS Raise Funds Just By Shopping at Fred Meyer!

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You can help FFIS raise needed funds just by shopping at Fred Meyer and using your Rewards Card! Here’s how the program works:

  • Obtain a Fred Meyer Rewards card.  If you don’t have one, stop by the Customer Service desk in any Fred Meyer Store.
  • Set up an online account for your Rewards Card, if you haven’t already.
  • Log in to your account.
  • Link your Fred Meyer Rewards Card to FFIS.  You can search for us by “Friendship Foundation for International Students” or the non-profit number 84701.

Every time that you shop at Fred Meyer, have your Rewards Card scanned with your purchases. Fred Meyer will add up the total points from everyone who has registered with us and send our organization a check every quarter. It’s that easy!

You will still earn your Rewards Points, Fuel Points, and Rebates, just as you do today. This is just an added bonus that helps FFIS financially too!  You can learn more about the Fred Meyer Community Rewards Program here.

Please share this with friends and family so that they’ll know about this opportunity to help our organization, just by shopping at Fred Meyer. The more FFIS earns, the more resources we have available to build friendships with more international students and community members.

Rick Obst – FFIS Volunteer, Steering Committee Member and Past Chair

Suzanne, Rick & Paola

Rick Obst joined FFIS in 2007 after learning about the organization at the Asian Celebration. A few years later he joined the Steering Committee and became the Chair soon thereafter. He served as the Chair through 2015 when Paul Harvey assumed that role.  Matthew Fisher is the current Chair.

His interest in international students probably started when he was an international student himself. He spent nearly a year attending high school in Stratford, New Zealand as a Rotary Exchange student where he stayed with several host families.

He later spent a summer in college as an exchange student living with a host family in the small town of Benia, Spain. Since no one there spoke English, his Spanish language skills had to improve quickly!

“It takes courage to travel far from home to a situation where you’re not sure what to expect,” said Rick. “The FFIS homestay family provides international students with a safe and friendly environment when they first arrive. The student’s parents appreciate that there is a local family that can help their child while at the U of O.”

Rick and his wife Suzanne have hosted students, helped at the annual Welcome Picnic, spearheaded the Ryan Meadows Garage Sale Fundraiser, and more in support of FFIS and its mission. Rick currently serves as the Chair of the FFIS Media Subcommittee.

He graduated from Arizona State University with a B.S. in Management and holds an MBA from the American Graduate School of International Management. He currently provides marketing support at Umpqua Bank for the Home Lending division.

Photo: Suzanne Obst, Rick Obst, and Paola Gomez (Ecuador)

Becky Megerssa – UO Liaison to FFIS

Becky Megerssa, UO Liaison

I grew up in Naselle, WA, a small rural town with a population of less than 1,000, many of whom were Finnish immigrants and their descendants. I went to school with the children of first generation Finns and learned from them about the culture of sauna, afternoon tea and sweets, and the Christmas tradition of selling lutefisk, a dried whitefish that would soak in cold water treated with lye for days before cooking. These traditions and experiences piqued my interest at a young age in wanting to learn about other foreign traditions in the world.

After getting a bachelor’s degree in International Studies from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, VT, traveling the world and living in San Francisco for 20 years, I moved back to the Pacific Northwest and Eugene in 2005. I was fortunate to be hired on at the University of Oregon in 2006 as an international student advisor and am now Assistant Director for International Student & Scholar Services / SEVIS Manager.

SEVIS is an acronym for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System which was developed by the U.S. government after 9-11 to track enrollment and monitor immigration compliance of international students studying at U.S. institutions. I’m basically in charge of this information system for the UO.

I have hosted several international students in my home for the FFIS short-term homestay program. I have three children (all in their 20s now) who enjoyed meeting students from other countries and have made new friends in the process. We always invite our students to join us for Thanksgiving as well as birthdays and special parties throughout the year.

I’ve been the FFIS Liaison for the UO since 2006. My role is to support the FFIS mission by providing administrative and communication support between International Student & Scholar Services and FFIS. It has been a pleasure to work closely with the FFIS Steering Committee all these years and to witness the magic that happens when students are welcomed to our community by volunteer hosts and conversation friends.

When I meet colleagues from other institutions and we talk about our respective friendship programs, I’m always so proud to talk about the longevity of FFIS in our community (78 years!) and the high level of engagement from local volunteers to host new international students, participate as a conversation friend or share a traditional Thanksgiving meal with international students, scholars and their families. While FFIS offers only three programs, they are integral to FFIS’ mission to bridge cultures and to promote world peace and understanding through international friendships, personal diplomacy and exchange of ideas.

For hundreds of international students and scholars who have attended the UO over the years, one of the best experiences they mention is their FFIS homestay or conversation friend program. The friendships and support network FFIS volunteers provide is invaluable and truly builds trust and fosters goodwill in a world where trust and goodwill is getting harder to come by.

Craig Biersdorff – FFIS Volunteer and Steering Committee Member

Yumin & Zhihong Wedding Reception

Craig Biersdorff has been an FFIS volunteer since 1988, which means he’s entering his third decade in support of our mission! In that time, Craig and his family have established friendships with 40+ international students from several dozen countries around the world.

“Having lived overseas and experienced the difficulty adjusting to another culture, I felt others could use some help when coming to Eugene,” said Craig. “I enjoy experiencing and developing friendships from different cultures.”

Craig earned a B.S. degree in Oceanography from Humboldt State University. He moved with his family to Lane County from California in 1986. Craig recently retired after working in the University of Oregon’s Environmental Health & Safety Department.

His FFIS volunteer experiences have created many memories. One that stands out is being able to host a wedding reception for Yumin and Zhihong who met each other while living in Eugene. They’re in the photo shown above.

Craig joined the Steering Committee to promote the good work of welcoming international students. He has volunteered at the Airport Reception Table and Welcome Picnic and provides useful input, suggestions, and feedback at the monthly board meetings.

The FFIS Steering Committee encourages its members to join the Steering Committee or attend a meeting to learn more about what the Committee does. If you’re interested in learning more, send an e-mail to FFISEugene@gmail.com.

A Conversation About the Conversation Friend Program

Maria from Finland and June Brooks

June Brooks is FFIS’ Conversation Friend Coordinator.  In this post she shares her insights about the program, how it works, and how local community members can participate.

What is the FFIS Conversation Friend Program? The Conversation Friend Program is a unique opportunity for FFIS volunteers to connect with an international student during the student’s first year in Eugene. A student and a volunteer are matched on the basis of shared interests. They meet for one hour a week in a public setting.

How does it work? The goal is for the volunteer to help the student or visiting scholar or spouse with conversational English skills. The volunteer does not act as a tutor, just as a friend. Women are matched with women and men are matched with men. Our volunteers have met with their conversation friends over coffee on campus, gone to museums together, met for lunch, gone shopping, or taken long walks around Eugene.

There are no limits or restrictions on what the two new friends can do. The flexibility of the program is something that appeals to a number of our volunteers. Each week can be different. The times to meet can change, as can the day of the week and the venue at which the friends get together. The program is the second program (along with the homestay program) that FFIS provides to international students and its volunteers. It is another rewarding and fun way to connect with the many young people who come to the U of O each year.

When does the program start? The program begins in October after the students have settled in. It runs until June. The only restriction that we place on our participants is to please respect each other’s unique cultural, religious and ethnic differences and to not proselytize. It is a program that enriches lives – those of our international students as well as our volunteers.

This sounds great! How can I learn more? To learn more about the FFIS Conversation Friend Program, contact FFIS Conversation Friend Coordinator June Brooks at 541-513-4086 or JuneEBrooks@gmail.com.

Photo: Maria from Finland and June Brooks

 

Susie Trant’s Experience as a Conversation Friend Volunteer

Susie Trant & Juyeon Lee

FFIS volunteer Susie Trant shares her experience as a Conversation Friend to Juyeon Lee, the South Korean student she is matched with:

As a first-time Conversation Friend volunteer, I have been delighted with the connection I’ve made with my “match.” Over these few months, Juyeon Lee and I have met almost every week for various activities: often a walk or a bit of sightseeing, sometimes a meal, and each time, a lovely chat. At first, topics focused on living in the U.S. and Eugene, sharing family info or just navigating every day English. Recently, we have graduated to more weighty subjects.

Since she is from South Korea, and especially considering current events, our exchanges have been illuminating for me. And I believe it’s helpful for her to open up and express herself clearly on issues that personally concern her. Perfecting her English is not really possible, but her oral confidence has been growing and her English has improved in just a short time. Overall, this experience has been rich for us both, and I’m sure our friendship will endure even after she returns home. ~ Susie Trant

The Conversation Friend program will be matching local community volunteers with University of Oregon international students starting in October.  To learn more about the program, contact June Brooks, the FFIS Conversation Friend Coordinator, at 541-513-4086 or JuneEBrooks@gmail.com

What International Students Say About FFIS’ Short-Term Homestay Program

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The FFIS Homestay Program matches international students with local community volunteers for a short-term homestay when the student first arrives in Lane County. Volunteers open their hearts and home to young adults far from home, helping them to get oriented and settled. The friendships built during that brief period often last well beyond when the student has returned to their native country. Homestay families have created many fond memories for the students that they’ve hosted.

FFIS surveys the students after their stay. This is what some of them had to say about their host family and the Homestay Program:

What was the most rewarding part of staying with a host family?

  • My transition to a new country couldn’t have been smoother. I am still in touch with my host family and they’re amazing people.
  • They are warm and made me feel at home.
  • Making friends with my host and hostess.
  • Getting to know the American culture and lifestyle.  They made me feel at home.
  • Getting to meet new people and having support in the first few days (and also after that).
  • Their warmth and hospitality
  • It is very helpful for an international student who has no family In Eugene.
  • My host family always cares and helps me with various things.
  • They were so kind. They drove us to campus during orientation.
  • I still keep in touch with my host mother and we hang out together three or four times a month.
  • They treat me like family members so that I’m not lonely during my first term.
  • They always supported me and they invited me to their Thanksgiving dinner.
  • My host mum takes me on a lot of day trips and hikes to surrounding areas. Therefore, I am seeing so much of what Oregon has to offer. We are very similar in the way that we both love exercise and keeping fit, so it has been a great and rewarding match.
  • Forming a friendship with a local which has lasted throughout my time at UO.

What was the most challenging part of staying with a host family?

  • Joining the conversation was difficult at first, because I’m shy and not good at English
  • Can’t think of anything.
  • Language and cultural differences sometimes created different perceptions and conversational expectations.
  • I didn’t know what polite and natural conversation is like in the U.S.
  • None actually. I couldn’t have had a better experience.
  • I was initially a bit anxious to meet them, but it turned out great.😊
  • I can’t think of anything that stands out. I felt a bit homesick at first, but they made me feel very comfortable.
  • Understanding their culture and customs.

Did you feel safe and supported during your stay with an FFIS homestay family? 100% responded “Yes.”

There are usually more students wanting a homestay experience than there are available host families. If you’re not yet a volunteer, but are interested in learning more about the program, read the FAQ page or e-mail FFIS@UOregon.edu.