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.