Namibia native Yvonne Yon came to the United States for the first time six weeks ago and said she has been blown away by the warm reception from the State College community.
Yon and dozens of other international people were matched with local community members as part of the Global Connections International Friendship Program. The welcome picnic Sunday was the first chance for everyone to meet each other.
“The outreach of the local people has been phenomenal,” she said. “I keep telling my people at home how lovely and nice it is to be here.”
The program is designed to welcome international people into the community and broaden the culture and outreach of local community members, program coordinator Tamra Fatemi said. Many of the international participants are students who have Penn State ties, but the program is open to anyone, she said.
Global Connections is a community-based nonprofit and not directly connected to the university.
Even after their time in the program is over, Fatemi said many of the pairs keep in touch and some locals travel to visit them in their countries.
“It makes for a really nice relationship long term,” she said.
Fatemi said it’s valuable for the locals because it allows them to personally interact with people from other cultures and learn more about the world outside of Centre County.
That has been what Elaine Jurs has experienced in her four years in the friendship program.
She and her husband had done some traveling before, but she said she never had any good international friends. Jurs sits on the Global Connections board and said they decided it was time to participate.
Four years later she doesn’t see an end in sight and would recommend others give it a try.
“I would strongly encourage anyone to look into hosting an international student,” she said.
Jurs tries to invite her friends over to her home for dinners and holidays to teach them about American customs and lifestyle.
Global Connections is always looking to expand its reach and get locals into the program. Fatemi said they always have an extensive waiting list of internationals waiting to get paired up.
Anyone interested in signing up can visit the website at www.gc-cc.org and scroll to the bottom of the page to register.