Orientation Packet

Orientation for new Friends

International Students and Scholars Services
Old Capitol Center

Visit The University of Iowa International Programs website
Email: iowa.fis@gmail.com

The mission of Friends of International Students (FIS), a community-based not-for-profit organization associated with the International Students and Scholars Services at the University of Iowa, is to promote cross-cultural understanding by matching interested international “Students” with American “Friends” in the Iowa City area. Friends are expected to provide insights into daily life as well as aspects of the Iowa City community, and Students are expected to share aspects of their culture with their Friends. Furthermore, the mission of FIS is to provide welcome and support to new international students at the UI and to provide activities to involve Friends with the international community on campus.

To increase enjoyment of the experience of interacting with an international student.
To increase awareness of culture and cultural differences and attitudes.
To obtain information about another country through a friendly informant.
To share positive knowledge of U.S. customs and life in a friendly, enjoyable way.
To assist international students in gaining skills to help successfully complete their studies by furnishing opportunities for conversation in English.
To help improve relationships between the United States and other countries in the world, one friend at a time.

If your student has recently arrived in the U.S., remember that many things may be strange to them. They MAY experience “culture shock”. Culture shock is the depression and anxiety experienced by many people when they travel or move to a new social and cultural setting. All individuals will have some degree of this experience, but few will have a serious problem.

Initial Euphoria: Compared to the ‘honeymoon stage’. The ‘new’ is exciting, intriguing and positive. This period may last from a week or two to a month.

Irritability and Hostility: (Culture Shock): Marks the point where the student begins to focus on differences. Symptoms include homesickness, boredom, withdrawal, avoiding contact with new country nationals, and irritability. Many individuals will not experience this as a severe reaction.

Gradual Adjustment: Happens in a very subtle, unnoticed manner. At this point, the student becomes more comfortable and feels less isolated. This is recovery stage.

Adaptation, Biculturalism: The ability to function in a different culture with confidence and comfort. The international student may enjoy many of the new customs, attitudes, and perspectives in their new country – and may even experience a sort of ‘reverse culture shock’ when they return home.

You can alleviate the difficulties of this cultural transition with your friendship and support. It is important to have genuine interest in your student as an individual. Get to know your student, their family at home, what they did before they came to this country, what their field of study is, and any experiences they would like to share. Share your own interests and activities as well. Getting to know someone takes time. Be patient and work on good communication skills.


Friends demonstrate awareness of, sensitivity to, and respect for others values, benefits, cultures, and educational systems.
Friends provide information and opportunities to facilitate participants’ adaptations to a new educational and cultural environment.
Friends provide appropriate opportunities for international students to observe culture in the United States and to join in mutual inquiry into cultural differences.
Friends do not discriminate with regard to race, color, national origin, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, age, political opinion, immigration status, or disability.
Friends do not exploit, threaten, coerce, or sexually harass others.
Friends do not use their position to proselytize.
Friends will understand and work to protect the civil and human rights of all individuals.
Friends try to become aware of their own cultural and value orientations and how these orientations affect their interactions with people from other cultures.
Friends who become aware of unusual levels of emotional difficulty in their international student should encourage the student to discuss the issue with ISSS (International Student and Scholar Services).
Friends should recognize the complexity of immigration and other legal issues for their student and should refer the student with such questions to ISSS by calling 335-0335.

ISSS works closely with NAFSA, a national organization of international educators.

Tell your student about yourself, your family, and your community.
Make contact with your student at least once a month. Hopefully this will be in person, but if not, at least call, or send an email or note.
Cooking together or inviting your student for informal meals is a great way to get acquainted. Check about any dietary restrictions, and tell your student if you have any dietary restrictions.
Try to accept invitations from your student. If you cannot accept, be honest and explain. Perhaps you can set another time.
Remember your student’s birthday. Include your student in other celebrations whenever you can. Include your student in regular, everyday activities too. Find out what your student enjoys doing and, if possible, do it with them.
If you have pets, check on your student’s reaction to them.
Ask questions about your student, your student’s family, and your student’s country. Ask your student to teach you a few words in his/her language.
If you have children or youth in your home, have the student show them and you where they live on a world map.
Just be interested in your student. Have fun!
Speak slowly but naturally.

Do not loan money.
Do not employ your student. International students and their spouses generally cannot work off-campus.
Do not get involved with immigration/visa problems. All questions concerning immigration/visa matters, legal/medical advice, or finances should be directed to the International Student and Scholars Services office at 319-335-0335.
Do not try to convert your student to your religion. Proselytizing is never appropriate.

Culture affects every aspect of a person’s life.
Here is a list of over 50 ways culture influences us.

How we greet each other
What is considered common courtesy
What is considered impolite
How we show respect and disrespect
What is risqué
How we seek and use health services
What we find humorous
How we use mass transit
Seating placement in a room

The role of the individual
The roles of men and how men should behave
The roles of women and how women should behave. Have roles of men and women changed since your grandparent’s time?
The importance of competition between individuals
Social Class system
Hierarchy in business relationships
Interactions between strangers
How to interact with a person in authority (boss, police officer, teacher, etc)
How to interact with a person who is serving us
Relationships and obligations between parents and children
Crowd or audience behavior

How time is scheduled and used
Whether schedules are important or unimportant
The importance of maintaining tradition
The importance of preparing for the future
Whether old age is valued or undesirable
The importance of understanding one’s history and passing it on

The language we speak
What should be said; what should be left unsaid
What is appropriate “small talk”
Whom we speak to; to whom should we not speak
Whether conversation should be formal or informal
The meaning of hand gestures, facial expressions, and other non-verbal communication
How often we smile, who we smile at, and the meaning of a smile
In which environments it is “safe” to speak one’s mind
In which environment we must censor identities
Our tone of voice, use of emotion, use of stories

What is beautiful or ugly
What are worthwhile goals in life
The nature of God and other religious beliefs
Whether a person is in control of his or her own life or whether fate determines one’s life
Common sense
Our perceived needs
Whether privacy is desirable or undesirable
Appropriate health care
Appropriate personal hygiene
What is “right”, what is “wrong”

Adapted from Multicultural Services: Providing Outstanding Services Across Cultures; Leslie Aguilar, Linda Stokes; Chicago: Irwin Professional Publishing 1996

Understand your own cultural values, prejudices, and stereotypes.
Be aware of your non-verbal communication (body language), what these gestures and facial expressions mean to you and what they might mean to other cultures.
Acquire basic knowledge of cultural values, beliefs, and practices for individual groups you wish to communicate with. Ask your student about his/her family, country, holidays, cultural values, beliefs, and practices.
If you do not know the language of your student, ask your student to teach you a few common phrases and their meaning.
Be respectful, interested in, and understanding of other cultures without being judgmental.
Be interested in and non-judgmental of other religions. Ask your student about religious holidays and how they are celebrated. Do not try to convert  your student to your religion.
Communicate respect and positive regard.
Take time. Encourage feedback.
Be a resource for your student about things that are unfamiliar in U.S. culture.

Barriers to Intercultural Communication
Ethnocentricity – The belief that everything in your own culture is right, and the only right way to do or think of things.
Stereotyping – Characterizing an entire culture based on previously formed opinions, perceptions, and attitudes.
Communication Methodologies – Non-verbals, eye contact, differing understanding of meaning of words (translation dictionaries are not always accurate!).

Anything that is not verbal that is apparent, such as manner of dressing, hand gestures, appropriate personal space between individuals, facial gestures, eye contact, body positioning or gestures.

Enhancing Communication
Ask the individual how he/she prefers to be addressed. Them him/her how you prefer to be addressed.
Avoid body language that may be offensive or misunderstood.
Speak directly to the individual.
Be an active listener.
Avoid slang and technical jargon, but if it comes up, explain it.
Be sure that the meaning is understood. Paraphrase, or ask your student to paraphrase.
Do NOT speak louder or too slowly – this will not increase understanding.
Create an atmosphere of respect so that the individual can be open and honest with you, but don’t expect complete openness immediately.
Convey respect for the individual and respect for his/her values, beliefs, and cultural and ethnic practices.
Be open to cultural differences. Recognize that thought patterns for other cultures, though different, are equally valid and influence how individuals view problems and solutions.
Make no assumptions about beliefs and values.

Skills that make a difference in a Friend
Tolerance for Ambiguity
Non-Judgmental Attitude
Strong Sense of Self
Sense of Humor
Flexibility, Adaptability
Good Human Relationship Skills
Tolerance for Differences
Risk-Taking Behavior

Note: Activities are very individual – wherever you find a cross-section of interests with your student, that is a good place to begin.

  1. Meals at your home (or in an inexpensive restaurant)
    On holidays, the student’s birthday, your birthday, or that of a member of the family; sometimes the student might offer to prepare food. Working together is fun for some.
  2. Movies (perhaps on DVD/video) – choose carefully in terms of cultural values; perhaps let the student choose. Films can lead to interesting discussions about differences among cultures.
  3. Sporting events (some are free or inexpensive)
    Women’s basketball.
    Minor sports.
  4. Museums:
    Natural History Museum at MacBride Hall at the University of Iowa
    Herbert Hoover Library, West Branch
    Czech and Slovak Museum, Cedar Rapids
    African-American Museum of Iowa, Cedar Rapids
  5. Concerts (IMU)
  6. LOTS of conversation – about the U.S., about the student’s country
  7. Ice-skating at Coral Ridge Mall
  8. Hiking, walking:
    Hickory Hill Park, MacBride Nature Recreation Area
    Indoors at North Liberty Recreation Center, University of Iowa Recreation Center
  9. Swimming at indoor pools:
    University of Iowa
    North Liberty
    Iowa City
  10. Trips around the area, especially if the student doesn’t have a car:
    Visit Amana Colonies and Kalona and explain the differences
    Kalona Fall Festival
    Oktoberfest in Amana
    Old Thresher’s Reunion (Mt. Pleasant)
    Tulip Festival (Pella)
    Maquoketa Caves
    Wildcat Den (near Muscatine)
    Palisades-Keppler State Park (near Mt. Vernon)
    Fall leaf tours, corn mazes, hay rides
    Mennonite Relief Sale (June)
  11. Board Games
    Scrabble, other word games (allow use of dictionaries, make it cooperative)
    Sequence, if the culture doesn’t object to cards
    Other card games
  12. Bicycling
    Rides with Bicyclists of Iowa City
    Trails at Reservoir
    Amana Trail
  13. Activities for students and children
    Children’s Museum, Coral Ridge Mall
    Nature Museum at MacBride Hall
    Rides at City Park and Coral Ridge Mall
    Playground equipment in surrounding town parks
    Coralville Lake
  14. Talks by writers from the International Writing Workshop (often in the daytime)
    Lecture series
  15. Introduce female students to the Iowa City International Women’s Club

Activities in Iowa City and other local communities can be found at:
www.iowacitycoralville.org/ (sports, events, parks, history, etc.)