FFIS Conversation Friends Share Many Wonderful Experiences Together

Weston and Akari Dancing

The FFIS Conversation Friend Program matches local community volunteers with University of Oregon international students for fellowship and friendship.  They meet in a public setting and share activities of mutual interest.  FFIS Volunteer and Steering Committee member Jean McClain talks about her experience as a Conversation Friend:

For our first meeting, Akari, my conversation friend from Japan, and I walked on the U of O campus among the magnificent trees with fall-colored leaves.  I knew right away that this was a good match.  Like myself, Akari is somewhat reserved, but loves learning, trying new things and having fun. 

Some of the most memorable times we’ve spent together include carving pumpkins, touring the U of O art museum, and on Valentine’s Day making pop-up cards and a gingerbread heart-shaped cake.  My two kids, who both go to the U of O, enjoy spending time with her as well.  They made a music video with her and her roommate where they dressed up and sang, and they also took her to a U of O football game.

Akari dancing with Weston

We went swing dancing which she thought was so much fun, and her roommate from Taiwan said it was one of the most fun things she has ever done.  We also do things together which to me seem mundane, such as shopping at WinCo, Costco, and Trader Joe’s.  But to her it is a food adventure.  Her enthusiasm helps me to look at my own culture in new ways, as she tells me the differences in the food they eat in Japan and the kinds of things that are sold in stores there.

On the Valentine card she made us, she wrote “Thank you for taking me to a lot of new places and letting me do amazing experiences!!!  I’m so happy I can spend time with you.”

To learn more about this program, visit the Conversation Friend Information page or send an e-mail to ffis.conversationfriends@gmail.com.

Erica with Weston

Les and Marian Brod Share Their Experience With The FFIS Conversation Friend Program

Les Brod & Marcia

Les and Marian Brod have been FFIS Conversation Friend volunteers for many years.  In this post they share recent experiences with their Conversation Friend from China:

Yunhong Bai, or Marcia as she liked to be called in English, came to the UO as a “courtesy professor” from a university in Beijing. Her purpose here was to learn how to teach English more effectively and to improve her own language skills, which were already quite good upon arrival. As a retired teacher of English, I quickly discovered we had much in common, but our conversations were not limited to teaching. For example, we discussed culture, politics, daily life, foods, wine and my weak Chinese language ability, among many other topics. 

During Marcia’s stay my wife, Marian, and I invited her and another visiting Chinese professor, Shirley, to our house where we all participated in making “baozi,” a type of filled dumpling common in Chinese cuisines.  The water boiled, the flour flew, and the roller flattened. 

Meanwhile we scooped filling, pinched baozi closed, and flung them into the pot of boiling water. We had a nice dusting of flour in the kitchen, but the results were great. During another meeting, we took Marcia to a winery for her first wine tasting experience; she enjoyed it immensely and now knows about Oregon Pinot Noir.

I would strongly encourage anyone who is a bit adventurous and wants an up-close and personal experience with people from other cultures to consider an FFIS conversation partner. It provides you with new insights, keeps your brain from gathering cobwebs and provides students and scholars from other countries the opportunity to get acquainted with real Americans–not just the ones they read about in their news headlines.

Interested in becoming an FFIS Conversation Friend if you’re not already?  Read “A Conversation About the Conversation Friend Program” and then contact Conversation Friend Coordinator Craig Biersdorff at 541-517-7652 or FFIS.ConversationFriends@gmail.com.

This Chinese PhD Student Appreciates His FFIS Conversation Friend

China Map

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 and meet for one hour a week in a public setting.

This is what a Chinese student wrote about his experiences with his FFIS Conversation Friend:

After moving to this new place to begin my Finance PhD at the University of Oregon, I felt so lonely and had a hard time adjusting myself to this strange town. This loneliness ended when I got an email from David talking about our first meeting as conversation friends. The first meeting went well at a coffee shop.

 He is like my father, warming my heart in the cold winter. He is very helpful in my life and is willing to help me anyway that he can. His help to me is much appreciated. And he is so nice and patient, always picking me up at my apartment and spending time with me during his busy schedule.

 His job is very close to my major and we always have a lot of things to talk about. He is a person who I admire—smart and gentlemanly. I always tell my parents and my friends how lucky I was to have the chance to know David. I want to say thank you to him and let him know how grateful I am for his help and time.

 To learn more about the FFIS Conversation Friend Program, contact FFIS Conversation Friend Coordinator June Brooks at 541-513-4086 or JuneEBrooks@gmail.com.

A Chinese Student Shares Her Thoughts About FFIS’ Conversation Friend Program

China Map

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 and meet for one hour a week in a public setting.

This is what a Chinese student wrote about her experiences with her FFIS Conversation Friend:

I am not a socially active person and I sometimes have trouble making friends. Therefore, I do not have too many friends, even Chinese friends. However, last term I met you through the conversation friend program. At the beginning, I could not believe what I saw from the email. “I am going to have a conversation friend!!” I thought. However, I was hesitating. My English was poor. I was not good at finding topics while chatting…I might be silly when I meet you!

However, I decided to meet you on Tuesday. I remember it was January 13th. You were extremely kind and you relieved all of my tensions. I really enjoyed chatting with you. After that you brought me to many places in Eugene that I did not know – 5th Street Public Market, Oakway Center, Pancake House, Yogurt Extreme, BJ’s and so on. I know you were trying to let me know more about this city. Without you, I will probably still be that kind of girl who hides inside the dorm.

Because of you, I know a lot about American culture. We celebrated your birthday with your family and that was my first time to really get closer to an American family. I felt so warm in your family! I was very shy, but your family let me feel the warmth just like in my home country. Everyone treated me so well! Those anxieties of being an international student have been eliminated. You also introduced me to a lot of good events, which I wouldn’t have attended before I met you!

You are definitely the best American friend of mine!! I am not good at writing, but I am trying to describe my appreciation to you. I do not know how long the conversation friend program will last, but I hope we will be friends and still hang out together even if this program finishes! Thank you and bring my best wishes to your great family!!

To learn more about the FFIS Conversation Friend Program, contact FFIS Conversation Friend Coordinator June Brooks at 541-513-4086 or JuneEBrooks@gmail.com.

A Conversation About the Conversation Friend Program

Maria from Finland and June Brooks

Craig Biersdorff and June Brooks are FFIS’ Conversation Friend Coordinators.  In this post June 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 Coordinators by e-mail at ffis.conversationfriends@gmail.com.  You can also call June Brooks at 541-914-7735 or Craig Biersdorff at 541-517-7652.

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

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.