FFIS News for October 2018

Greeting at the Airport

A new University of Oregon school year has begun and FFIS has been active in welcoming new international students and scholars to our community through our short-term homestay program and Welcome Picnic.  We’d like to share some information about what’s been happening and remind you about our upcoming fundraiser at Fisherman’s Market on Monday, Oct. 8.

Fall Homestay Program – FFIS volunteers hosted 95 incoming international students in mid-September.  Thank you to the host families for opening up your hearts and homes to these students!  We surveyed host families and students to get their feedback after the homestay concluded.  These two blog posts share some of the students’ comments:

FFIS Homestay Students Share What Was the Most Rewarding Part of Being with A Local Host Family
FFIS Homestay Students Share What Was the Most Challenging Part of Their Homestay Experience

Welcome Picnic – Our annual picnic welcoming incoming UO and LCC international students was held on Sunday, Sept. 16, at Alton Baker Park.  Between 300 to 400 students attended.  Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis, Springfield Mayor Christine Lundberg, LCC President Margaret Hamilton, and UO President Michael Schill attended and spoke words of welcome.  Photos taken at the picnic can be viewed in this Flickr album and in this Facebook album.

U of O Daily Emerald Story About FFIS – U of O Daily Emerald reporter Olivia Sanchez attended our Welcome Picnic at Alton Baker Park on Sept. 16 and wrote a story about FFIS that was published online and on page 3 of the Sept. 25 print edition.

Fundraising – FFIS is an all-volunteer non-profit and relies upon fundraising and donations to pay for its programs.  Here are five ways that you can help:

Fisherman’s Market will donate 20% of voucher purchases on the second Monday of each month to FFIS.  This Monday, Oct. 8, is the next fundraising opportunity.  They’ll write the purchase amount at the bottom of the voucher when you place your order from their menu.  They also have take-and-bake seafood meals available that are delicious.

Fisherman's Market in Eugene, Oregon

 Fred Meyer Community Rewards Program – If you shop at Fred Meyer, link your Rewards Card to FFIS.  In addition to the Rewards points that you’ll earn, Fred Meyer will also count those points as a donation to FFIS.  Learn more about the program and how to sign up here.


eScrip – Register your credit and/or debit card on the eScrip website denoting FFIS as your organization of choice.  Learn more about this program here.

Direct Donation – Checks made payable to the Friendship Foundation for International Students can be mailed to: Friendship Foundation for International Students, c/o Office of International Affairs, 5209 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403.

Pints for a Cause (LCC) – FFIS is also working with LCC’s International Programs.  LCC provided student workers, rice, and other items at the Welcome Picnic.  They have a fundraiser at Ninkasi’s Tasting Room on Thursday, Oct. 25.

Conversation Friend Program – Thirty-five students have signed up for the fall Conversation Friend program with more signing up almost daily.  We’ve been able to match 25 students so far and especially need male FFIS volunteers.  For those unfamiliar with how this program works, read A Conversation About the Conversation Friend Program.  If you’d like to learn more or volunteer, contact Craig Biersdorff at 541-517-7652 or ffisconversationfriends@gmail.com.

These posts share volunteer and student experiences in the program:

A Chinese Student Shares Her Thoughts About FFIS’ Conversation Friend Program
Susie Trant’s Experience as a Conversation Friend Volunteer
This Chinese PhD Student Appreciates His FFIS Conversation Friend

Maria from Finland and June Brooks

Photos – Do you have photos with your FFIS student(s) to share for possible use on future website blog posts?  They don’t have to be recent.  Send them to ffis@uoreogon.edu with a brief description of who is in each photo.

Have an Interesting Story for a Blog Post? – We’re always on the lookout for stories about FFIS volunteers and their experiences with the international students they’ve met.  Send an e-mail with some few details about your story to ffis@uoregon.edu and FFIS Steering Committee member Rick Obst will follow up with you.

Your Feedback – The Steering Committee welcomes your feedback and comments.  Send an e-mail to FFISEugene@gmail.com if you have anything that you’d like to share.  Thank you for being a part of this great local organization!

Your FFIS Steering Committee

Chair & TreasurerMatthew Fisher  (541-255-0626 or mfisher333@gmail.com)

SecretarySuzanne Dassenko

Conversation Friend Coordinators:

June Brooks  (541-714-7735 or ffisconversationfriends@gmail.com)

Craig Biersdorff  (541-517-7652 or ffisconversationfriends@gmail.com)

Steering Committee MembersCindee Robertson, Deanna Brandt, Paul Harvey, Rick Obst, Roger Ludeman, and Steve Gilbreath

U of O LiaisonBecky Megerssa

LCC LiaisonTomomi Kurosaki

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 FFISEugene@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

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 FFIS@UOregon.edu.

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.