Friendship Families are an integral part of an international student’s Wartburg College experience, as well as their American experience.
Wartburg College enrolls nearly 200 international students from more than 50 nations. The Friendship Family program is an important way that the Cedar Valley learns from these students and how these students share with our community.
This handbook provides information about the program and other Wartburg College resources in order to help you serve as a Friendship Family. You may also contact us with any additional questions at 319-352-8745 or email
Wendy.Mohlis@wartburg.edu or Helen.Leong@wartburg.edu .
What support can I expect from the International Student Services Office?
Wendy Mohlis, the Friendship Family program coordinator, is available to answer your questions and provide information about Wartburg College resources for you and your student. You can contact Wendy at Wendy.Mohlis@wartburg.edu or 319-352-8745 in the Student Life office.
Each season, Wendy emails a newsletter to Friendship Families with information on upcoming events and calendar items to keep in mind when talking with your student.
Wendy may also assist in reaching you if your student is being honored on campus and has an occasion where their family is invited to attend.
We host two Friendship Family Potlucks each year, one in the fall and one in the winter. These are generally a Sunday evening, where students and families are invited to get together for an informal dinner.
Each fall, we host an Ice Cream Social for new international students and their Friendship Families to first meet each other.
Each May, we host a Graduation Party for graduating international students, along with their Friendship Families, families from home, and their friends.
Lindo Simelane '16 and Abdo Gubran '15 at the Fall 2014 Potluck
What is expected of Friendship Families?
Review this handbook.
Attend the Ice Cream Social to meet your student shortly after their arrival in the Fall.
During the student’s first year at Wartburg, initiate at least three or four activities each term, contacting them at least once per month. Students generally have more questions and needs in their first year at Wartburg, and if you establish your relationship at the beginning, then as they move into their later years at Wartburg the frequency of your contact will develop.
Attend the Friendship Family Potlucks, if you are available, as one of your monthly contacts.
Inquire about the students during holidays to find out if they have plans to leave campus or will be present during major holidays, like Christmas or Thanksgiving.
Andjelka Zoranovic '15 with her "two families" at graduation.
How do I break the ice with my student?
Learn about your student’s home country. Be prepared to answer questions about the United States.
Introduce your student to Waverly and/or the Cedar Valley and help them see what a special place this is. For example, you can take them to a museum, a sporting event or a movie, or simply ask them to dinner.
Learn how to pronounce the student’s name correctly, and ask them to help you learn how. Some students may offer a “Western” name as an alternative, and that is fine, but you should at least familiarize yourself with their real name so you can recognize it when spoken.
Mark your student’s birthday on your calendar and send them a note on their special day. You may also mark a couple of their country’s special holidays (i.e. Lunar New Year).
Keep in mind that English may not be their first language, and be aware that if you use a slang word or an idiom, they may not understand you completely.
Keep in mind when inviting a student to your home:
Your student may have dietary restrictions related to personal preference, culture, or religion. Ask about those before they come to your home to eat a meal. For example, they may not eat pork or any meat at all.
Students may have different time schedules than your family. Your student’s culture may place more or less value on being “on time.” Generational differences can also affect habits related to planning ahead or scheduling late-night/early-morning get-togethers, and personal differences may affect how much time you think is required to get to know one another. Be honest about your expectations with each other.
Many cultures are not accustomed to keeping pets inside the home. Let the student know about your indoor pet before they come to your home. Also, introduce the pet slowly, as the student may be uncomfortable with animals.
Most students do not have a car, so you should expect to provide transportation. You may also want to give them an end time to your meeting, so they can make arrangements.
Smoking is much more common in other countries, and you may need to let your student know that you do not permit smoking at your home.
Alcohol use will vary greatly from culture to culture, student to student, and family to family. This may require a conversation depending on your family’s habits and the student’s expectations.
Mohammed Mohammed '19 meeting his Friendship Family at the Ice Cream Social
What kinds of things should I do with my student?
Exchange contact information; it may take a while for the student
to settle in and get a cell phone number, so you may need to rely
on email at first. Ask them for their college and/or personal email address.
Encourage them to attend the Friendship Family potluck at the beginning of each term.
Invite the student to your home. If you work on campus, tell them where your office is located and/or invite them to lunch.
Your student may need advice and help getting ready for Iowa winters. They may not know about chapstick, winter coats or gloves, and may need help shopping. Assisting them with shopping does not mean help with paying, and those students with financial struggles should be referred to Helen Leong (email@example.com).
Introduce American customs through your families’ customs. Invite your student to carve a pumpkin or dye Easter eggs. Provide the student the opportunity to see how Americans live.
You are the “elder” in this relationship, so be proactive and make the first move. The student may be too shy or intimidated to reach out to you. Show them that you are interested and willing to make them a part of your life. Then, the student will be more comfortable making you a part of their life.
Rina Katsura '16 with her Friendship Family
What is not expected of Friendship Families?
It is generally illegal for you to employ your friendship student to babysit, clean, or do other jobs. Most of our international students hold an F-1 student status, which has strict limitations on employment.
You should also obey state and federal alcohol and other drug laws, regardless of the student’s home culture.
Sharing about your different faith traditions is a wonderful way to learn about each other, but the Friendship Family program is not an opportunity to proselytize.
You may, if you choose, let your student house-sit, stay with you over college breaks, store their items in your home over the summer, teach them to drive using your car (once they have a Learner’s Permit), list them on your cell phone plan, lend them your bicycle or car, or even co-sign a loan – but these activities are NOT expectations and are completely at your discretion and risk. If you choose to give your student money, you should consider that money a gift and not a loan.
We ask that you do not provide legal advice or financial support to your student. If these needs arise, please contact Helen Leong (firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-352-8210) with concerns.
Offer advice about life in America
You are the “elder” in this relationship, and they are very young. You may need to be an active teacher in addition to being a friend.
Your student will need to buy many things while in Waverly. You can offer advice on places to shop, inexpensive options for winter clothes (like Trinkets & Togs or Neighborhood Closet), or yard sales (a concept students may not be familiar with). You might also discourage them from buying too much, reminding them that it all must be stored and moved at the end of the school year.
Your student will most likely not know much about the American system. Feel free to openly discuss things one needs to know, do or not do to get on well in America. For example, many students will not want to get a credit card, not understanding the long-term result of having no credit history, or that certain purchases require a credit card.
Your student will not know about what activities are fun to do in Waverly and the Cedar Valley. You can give advice on what to do during breaks or what might be good gifts for their families back home.
Common Questions or Requests
Many students remain in Waverly during academic breaks. Although the International Student Services Office provides some programming and support, this is a great time to reach out to your student.
Students often need help shopping for items, getting to/from the airport in Waterloo or Cedar Rapids, and help learning to drive to get their driver’s license.
All international students are required to carry international student health insurance through Wartburg; however, it does not cover vision or dental. Students may have questions or concerns regarding the American health care system and need references for service.
For students who are not staying on campus or in Waverly for the summer, the student may need to store some of their things for the summer.