These lifelong friendships seemingly have no business ever happening. The people are just too different. They're from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds. Sometimes their English is hard to understand.
These students have a different circle of friends and interests and are from different generations. Make friends with them and you may never see them again when they return to their home country.
Yet the intense emotional bonds that are formed in just a few short days often last a lifetime.
For some Lane County, Oregon residents, these overseas friendships are multiplied many times over the years. They're volunteer members of the Friendship Foundation for International Students (FFIS). They have opened their homes and hearts to host international students attending the University of Oregon when they first arrive in Eugene, Oregon.
The students arrive at the airport exhausted from a long journey. They're young, in a strange land far from friends and family, and anxious about what their immediate future holds. They're about to meet strangers who they will stay with for a few days until they move to a dorm or apartment. If you think that they're nervous, imagine what their parents far away must be going through.
A friendly smile, a hospitable home, an in-depth tour of the city and university, and the seeds are quickly sown for a friendship that lasts well beyond when the local family and international student inevitably part company.
As the Chairperson for FFIS, I hear heartwarming stories of unfettered love on both sides that transcend language, culture, and geography. We're a lot more alike than we are different. The stories of these experiences go well beyond what I cite here:
- A Lane County, Oregon couple in FFIS hosts a young student from Singapore. Her parents come to visit and stay with the family. Her boyfriend also comes and stays for 10 days. Later the American couple visits Singapore to see their student while staying in a hotel. When it comes time to pay the hotel bill, they're told that that the boyfriend's father is the hotel manager and the bill is already taken care of.
The host father of another host student is asked to walk her down the aisle at her wedding, as her real father is unable to.
Another host family visits Scandinavia and stays with their host students throughout the way, meeting their spouses, parents, and children.
One host family (hosting since 1992) became de facto grandparents to a student that they'd welcomed into their home.
The stories go on and on. As a host father, I have many stories that I can tell since 2006. I was a host student myself in 1977 in New Zealand and can still vividly call to mind my experiences from that year. It's probably why I'm chair of FFIS today. My wife and I have 50 to 60 students around the world who call us "Mom" and "Dad".
Rick Obst is an Arizona native who moved to Eugene, Oregon in 2005 and fell in love with the verdant Pacific Northwest. He enjoys photography and discovering the many people, places, and events that make this part of the world so special.
To learn more about Eugene, Lane County, and western Oregon, visit 365 and More Things to do in Lane County, Oregon on Facebook. You'll see hundreds of pictures and links to discover the beauty and attractions of this special area.