Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

IPO unveils Buddies Program

For international students studying at the University of Massachusetts, making friends and feeling at home can sometimes be a challenge.

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But the International Programs Office is trying to make the transition a little bit easier through its Buddies Program, which pairs students who have just arrived on campus from other countries with current University of Massachusetts students.

Claire Rowat, a junior double major in Hospitality &Tourism Management and Spanish, became involved with the Buddies Program last January after studying abroad in Montréal. The Boston native said she has been paired with three international students since then – two of whom sat with her Monday in the Campus Center at a table outside the Blue Wall.

Francis Goyes, a 22-year-old architecture student from Ecuador, is Rowat’s newest buddy. And Fei Yu, a 26-year-old graduate student from China studying public health, is her oldest.

Buddy pairs typically meet weekly or bi-weekly. There are also a couple of IPO-sponsored events held for the students and their buddies, including an ice cream social and end of year pizza party.

“Francis and I do coffee or go out for tea. Fei and I do weekly lunches,” Rowat said. “You talk about the different cultures and learn a bit about each other.”

Last weekend, Rowat said she accompanied Yu to the Chinese autumn festival on campus.

“It was really cool,” she said. “I never really was brought to anything in his Chinese culture, since he’s in the U.S. I got to see how they played games, had moon cakes. I got to see more of his side, his culture.”

The program aims to help international students feel more at home more and make their transition easier, according to the program’s Facebook page.

Goyes came to UMass last year as an exchange student and said she liked it so much that she decided to transfer and finish her degree here.

According to Goyes, the Buddies Program helped her feel like she had a place on campus, and enabled her to meet someone who was open to learning more about her culture.

Coming from a school with only 5,000 students to one with about 21,000 undergraduates, Goyes said the program aided her in meeting people and finding things to do.

The Buddies Program “opens up your world a little bit more,” Goyes said. “It’s always nice to know someone who is from here because they can tell you the best places to go to, where to visit. It’s something you wouldn’t have if you hung out with only other international students.”

“Meeting someone from a different country is very intriguing because you get to learn a lot, not only about a different person, but about a different country with a different culture, perspective and ideals,” Rowat added.  “You can’t really get that if you’re always with two people from Massachusetts all the time. It opens doors to more positive thinking.”

Student buddies are paired based on a preference application, Rowat said. IPO matches an international student with a current student based on common preferences, like if the student would prefer a male or female buddy, or if he or she would rather be paired with someone from a particular country.

“I wanted to give back to IPO, I got an email about this program and I thought it would be a really cool idea,” Rowat said.

Goyes said she particularly enjoyed one of her initial outings with Rowat, when they went out for tea and got to know each other and learn about their different cultures.

“I really like it here,” Goyes said. “It’s very different from home. There are seasons here, and the leaves change color, which is really nice. Back home it’s the same temperature all the time.”

Yu, who came to UMass in August of last year, said he has particularly enjoyed getting to take advantage of the opportunities to practice speaking English and learn more about America.

“I think Claire is a very good person and she’s very kind and open minded,” Yu said. “I give her a triple ‘A’ grade.”

Steffi Porter can be reached at [email protected].

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