W&L Expands Friendship Family Program The initiative matches participating W&L students with local host families interested in connecting.
Simona Radeva ’23, an international student from Bulgaria, arrived on the Washington and Lee University campus in 2019 with little idea of what to expect. As a first-year student, she had to adapt not only to college life, but to a new country.
W&L’s Friendship Family Program, a campus initiative that matches participating students with local host families, was a lighthouse in a sea of uncertainty for Radeva during that first year. The program aims to facilitate friendships and create a sense of belonging on W&L’s campus for program participants.
“The program experience is great,” said Radeva. “It was an excellent way to get a glimpse of life beyond just campus. My host family took me out to eat several times, which was fun and refreshing, and we even attended their son’s school show, which was also pretty cool! I think it made me feel more present and grounded in the environment in and around W&L.”
This year, the university’s Student Activities office is partnering with the Center of International Education (CIE) to expand the program to include not only international students, but also select domestic students.
The decision to expand the program came out of experiences with the Winter Break Buddy program. During the 2020-2021 academic year, Kelsey Goodwin, director of student activities, worked with Kim Hodge, director of sustainability initiatives and education, to set up a “break buddy” system for students who remained on campus in Lexington for some portion of the winter break.
“Faculty and staff volunteered enthusiastically to participate, and we had a meet-and-greet kickoff to the program the day after Thanksgiving,” Goodwin said. “Host families dropped off baked goods and had outdoor, physically distant meetups with their students to check in with them and provide social support. A student who participated in this program and is also involved with Questbridge suggested that we consider expanding this program to something students have available to them all year.”
Hunter Swanson, associate director for international education at W&L, worked with the program when it was offered only for international students and has joined forces with Goodwin to expand it.
“The best thing about the program is that participation promotes a sense of belonging for the participant, not just to W&L but also to the greater Lexington community,” Swanson said. “For international students, the program provides an opportunity to make connections that can help ease the effects of homesickness and culture shock.”
Mark Rush, director of the Center for International Education, said he is thrilled to be part of the new collaboration
“The Friendship Family Program will provide a robust and welcoming opportunity for new international students as well as Questbridge and LIFT students to settle into Lexington and Rockbridge County as they make the transition to university life,” he said.
Student and friendship families are selected and matched based on similar interests and preferences collected in an application form. Once matched, families and students are encouraged to connect in person or via messaging at least once a month.
“The program helps a lot with integration on and around campus through getting to know a local family and their daily life, especially for international students,” Radevasaid. “It can also be a pretty nice break from the potential monotony of campus life.”
Qualifying students have until August 8 to apply. Read more about the program here.