June Brooks – FFIS Conversation Friend Coordinator

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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.”