Roger Ludeman – FFIS Volunteer and Steering Committee Member

A born and raised Midwesterner (South Dakota), Roger Ludeman has found that his life journey has taken him to over 60 countries. He attended college in his hometown and became a school music teacher. In 1965 he was selected to participate in a U.S. government sponsored program to study counseling and psychology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Pitt) where he received his second master’s degree and a Ph.D. in counselor education/educational psychology. He worked as a dean of students at the Penn State Beaver Campus and The University of Toledo before moving back to the heartland to become Vice President for Student Affairs at Bemidji State University in northern Minnesota. From there he moved to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater where he became Assistant Chancellor for Student Affairs where he served until retirement in 2001.

Over the years Roger’s interests shifted more toward international education. While at UW-Whitewater he oversaw their study abroad program in Sweden. He served on the first NAFSA (Educators International) committee that developed the guidelines for health and safety in study abroad. He also worked to internationalize his professional associations, ACPA-College Student Educators International and NASPA-Student Affairs Adminstrators in Higher Education. Roger created the NASPA International Symposium in 1996, the NASPA International Exchange Program and helped initiate the global colloquium of the ACPA Commission on the Global Dimensions of Student Development.

roger ludeman & ali zelan from turkey

He has written several book chapters and articles on student affairs and services. His latest book, Student Affairs and Services in Higher Education: Global Foundations, Issues and Best Practices, Third Edition, is being published by UNESCO (over 200 authors coming from about 100 countries). It is a special writing project of the organization that Ludeman founded, the International Association of Student Affairs and Services (IASAS). IASAS has over 1,000 members from nearly 100 countries.

Roger is a Fulbright Scholar, having been awarded grants to teach and do research in Germany (1993), Japan (1887) and South Africa (2001-02) where he and his wife, Sandy, lived for a year. He credits these experiences with inspiring him to travel and study globally. All of this has contributed to his interest in international students and global education. He and his wife retired to Eugene in 2002 and soon found out about the Friendship Foundation for International Students (FFIS). He served on the FFIS Steering Committee in the early to mid-2000s, serving as Chair for a year. He left the committee for several years but continued to serve as a Conversation Friend. He has just rejoined the Committee.

Being a FFIS volunteer and Steering Committee member is a natural extension of Roger’s work in international education during his work life. He believes that the Conversation Friend program is the Jewel in the FFIS “crown.” He has had conversation friends from China, South Korea, Turkey and an ethnic Tibetan from Nepal. Just like our own students, each is unique and proud of her/his home country. Conversations translate into activities and, eventually, lifetime friendships. He likes being called “dad” again.

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!

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

Matthew Fisher – FFIS Steering Committee Chair & Treasurer

Matthew Fisher Family

Matthew Fisher is the current Chair and Treasurer of the FFIS Steering Committee. He and his wife Kassy hosted their first FFIS student in 2009 and Matthew joined the Steering Committee the following year.  Their now eight-year-old daughter Margot took her first steps as a one-year-old in Beppu, Japan.

“Hosting international students from the UO is a wonderful and convenient way to stay connected to the international community, while also sharing a bit about our larger “American” culture and the unique nature of our local community, says Matthew. “It’s an amazing feeling to make those meaningful connections with those who, at times, come from radically different social and cultural backgrounds.”

Matthew is originally from Tampa Bay, Florida and has been a Lane County resident since 2006. He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of South Florida in Philosophy and International Studies.  He followed that up with graduate studies in Planning and Public Policy at the University of Oregon.  Matthew is currently a stay-at-home father after working in the Springfield Public Schools Transportation Department.

Why did you become an FFIS Volunteer? Kassy and I had both done quite a bit of international traveling before we met. Actually, one of the things that I found attractive and intriguing about Kassy was the amount of traveling she did overseas and how much exposure she had to foreign communities and cultures.  I guess you could say that it’s really important to me that we find a way to connect to the larger international community and gain some perspective outside the comforts of our own way-of-life.

What do you enjoy most about being an FFIS Volunteer? It’s an amazing feeling to make those meaningful connections with those who, at times, come from radically different social and cultural backgrounds.

Why did you join the Steering Committee?  We had hosted a female UO student and learned quite a bit about FFIS at that time, including the steering committee and ways to get more involved in the “nuts and bolts” aspects of the organization. Having recently finished a degree that touched on nonprofit management, I was interested in what FFIS was doing and trying to accomplish.  FFIS was a good fit for my passions and skill set.

What are some of your favorite memories of international students that you’ve met? Most of my favorite memories center around the sharing of food, drinks, and having conversations about commonalities and differences in our respective cultures, traditions, political and social environments, etc. You learn so much about yourself and your own culture when you explore someone else’s with them.

What memorable experiences did you have as a result from volunteering with FFIS? There are many, but the most memorable are the Fall Picnics that we hold each year. It’s quite remarkable to see all the moving pieces required to get a social event of that size off the ground and merge together to create a safe, engaging, and fun experience for all involved. We literally have individuals from all corners of the planet coming together, celebrating the wonders of diversity, and dissolving the barriers that keep many in the international landscape unnecessarily divided. Again, it’s the theme of making meaningful connection that’s most memorable.

Anything else that you would like to share about your FFIS experiences? I’d like to shed light on the wonderful group of individuals in our steering committee that I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years. This organization has been making connections between the larger Eugene area and the international student community at the UO since the 60’s. Having been involved as long as I have, I’ve seen firsthand what it takes to keep the FFIS engine chugging along. The commitment, dedication, and enthusiasm exhibited by each of our committee members lies at the heart of FFIS and really makes it all possible.

June Brooks – FFIS Conversation Friend Coordinator

Photo #1

June Brooks serves as our FFIS Conversation Friend Coordinator. She is originally from Ossining, New York, but has lived in Lane County for the past 37+ years.  She joined the Steering Committee in 2009 after retiring from a career of teaching special education in Cottage Grove for 23 years.

June is married with two grown sons, one granddaughter, a stepson, a stepdaughter and two step granddaughters. She earned a Bachelors degree from Cornell University in Child Development and a Masters degree in special education from the University of Oregon.

Why did you become an FFIS volunteer? In the 1980’s we had a friend who was a volunteer. We met some of her students and we were intrigued by the idea of hosting students from around the world. Our children were young and we thought that it would be a good experience for them to be exposed to people from different cultures.  We could never have guessed how much these international friendships would come to mean to all of us.

I love spending time with the students. I love learning about their country, hearing about their experiences, and gaining a different perspective on world events. I also like showing them around our beautiful state of Oregon and being here in case they need a surrogate parent or just a sympathetic ear.

I joined the Steering Committee because I had recently retired.  I had the time to take on more responsibilities and saw an invitation to come to a meeting on an email from Becky Megerssa.  (Little did I know what that first meeting would grow into!).

What are some of your favorite memories of international students that you’ve met? I can hardly begin since I have been doing this for 28 years! We had a student from Germany shortly after the Berlin Wall came down. It was interesting to learn from him what that meant to his country. We have learned that while not Christian, kids from Japan grow up celebrating Christmas in exactly the same way we do.

We had a girl from France who loved Downton Abbey as much as I did and we bonded over that every Sunday evening. We backpacked down the Grand Canyon with one of our Norwegian students and one of our English students.  We have taken more students than I can recall to marvel over the clear blue water of Crater Lake. Last summer, we flew to NYC to meet with a recent student from Brazil who was visiting the city with her fiancé.

When my children were growing up, our students were their big brothers and big sisters. They joined our family for dinners, for weekend trips, for birthday parties, really whatever we were doing. Now, of course, my sons are much older than the current students are, but the memories remain for all of us.

What motivates you to be an FFIS Volunteer and Steering Committee member? What motivates me to stay involved with FFIS is getting to know even more of our wonderful international students. I like to look back to the reason that the organization was founded in 1950, shortly after the end of WWII.  The aim was for one person to reach a hand of friendship to one other person, across cultural and national boundaries, thereby fostering world peace. I know that it is simplistic, but that concept has always resonated with me.  We can only do what we can do!

Anything else that you would like to share about your FFIS experiences? This kind of blends with the above. But one benefit we have received from our involvement with the students is the life-long friendships that we have developed with so many of them.  We see them marry, become parents, be successful in their careers, gain advanced degrees, and sometimes, when we are VERY lucky, we get to visit them in their home countries (something that we have done many times and we continue to do) or have them return to Eugene and stay with us for a visit. This July, my very first student from Norway, Anders, 1990-1994, will spend a week with us along with his wife and two children. We can’t wait to see them and show his family where he earned his degree.



Cindee Robertson – FFIS Volunteer and Steering Committee Member

Ye Chao, Conversation Friend from China, and Cindee Robertson

Most volunteers with the Friendship Foundation for International Students (FFIS) have experienced life overseas and enjoy interacting with people from other countries.  That’s certainly the case with Cindee Robertson.  She spent ten years as a teacher in Nepal, Romania, and Tunisia before returning to Eugene to retire in 2014.  Working with international students is near and dear to her heart.

Cindee graduated from the University of Oregon with an MS in Special Education and did doctorate work at Washington State University.  She was a regular education teacher, special education teacher, and Special Education Director in Washington and Oregon before working overseas.

FFIS’ programs provided Cindee with the opportunity to meet and befriend international students far from home.  Not only did she volunteer to be a Conversation Friend, she also joined the Steering Committee.  Her insights, commitment and contributions to the organization have been invaluable.

“Helping international students is so rewarding and makes me feel as though we are truly a global community when we volunteer with FFIS,” said Cindee.  “Having lived abroad, I know how difficult it is to be away from family and the challenges of acculturation.”

Becoming “family” to someone from a different country and culture is seemingly part of her DNA.  She helped a 16-year-old girl from Nepal come to America.  Three years later she helped the girl’s mother and younger sister come.  Those two girls are now American citizens and college graduates.  They consider Cindee to be their second Mom and a family member.

FFIS can always use more volunteers like Cindee to open their hearts and homes to international students far from home.  The loving relationships formed last well beyond when the students return to their country.  Volunteers end up with many “sons” and “daughters” living throughout the world.

“Please consider doing a little or volunteer to do even more, says Cindee.  “It is a wonderful, forever experience.”