Help FFIS Raise Funds Just By Shopping at Fred Meyer!


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

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

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

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


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

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.



FFIS Fundraiser at Fisherman’s Market

May 9, 2018

Fisherman’s Market will donate 20% of all sales to FFIS on Wednesday, May 9th. This includes all products including eat in, take out, seafood orders, alcohol, etc. It is an all-day fundraiser.

Print the flyer below or mention “FFIS” when you order food/purchase product and FFIS gets 20%.

print FFIS fundraiser flyer

2nd Wednesday of Every Month

Fisherman’s Market will donate 20% of all sales to FFIS on the 2nd Wednesday of every month.


Fisherman’s Market

830 West 7th St. Eugene, OR 97402