Creating a global experience on campus without having to travel is just a bit of what the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, International House (I-House) offers. The house’s Friendship Program partners domestic students with international students in an effort to build friendships from around the world. The experience benefits both American and international students by aiding them in their journey to learn, grow, and expand their horizons on an international level.
I-House student worker Taylor Dempsey and current Friendship Program participant Ahoud Algargoush share their experiences with the program.
Student worker Taylor Dempsey answers the front desk phone at International House.
Q: What has been your favorite experience with the Friendship Program so far?
Dempsey: My favorite experience with the Friendship Program has definitely been all of the mixers! Each semester we host around three group events so everyone can get to know each other and have fun. The first is a reveal mixer where everyone gets to meet their partner, and these are always so exciting. It’s so fun to see people get to know each other and learn about each other’s cultures.
Algargoush: Pre-COVID, my friend and I used to try new international restaurants every weekend; it was fun to have someone who loves to try new food from different countries. Also, one of my favorite experiences is when my friend and I went to play Zumba in TRECS [UT’s student recreation center] on breast cancer day.
Q: Can you describe your experience with the program pre-COVID and how it is now during COVID?
Dempsey: Before the pandemic, there were a lot more in-person activities the partners could do with each other. Students took group trips to museums, went hiking, and did karaoke together. Now there are way more Zoom hangouts and socially distanced activities. While it is sad not being able to have everyone together in person, the intimacy of Zoom has really helped people get closer and learn more about each other. I think there have been a lot of deep, rich friendships made during COVID!
Algargoush: Pre-COVID, we used to go to new places and discover Knoxville more. However, since now I am in Saudi Arabia, I have to meet with my friend via Zoom. We still get to see each other and have fun; the experience is the same, but the activities that we used to do are different.
Q: What are some of the opportunities you have encountered because of this program?
Ahoud Algarhoush, middle right, poses with friends after Zumba at Student Recreational and Fitness Center’s Breast Cancer Day.
Dempsey: This program has helped me learn more about myself and my culture as well as that of others. I’ve learned more about what’s going on around campus and all of the different clubs and programs that are available. I’ve also had the opportunity to participate in a number of fun activities at the I-House with undergraduate and graduate students from every program. I have met people from around the world and learned more about speaking different languages and cooking different foods. I’ve had the chance to participate in cooking lessons directly from students and practice my Spanish skills at any time! During the pandemic, it’s also given me a large group of students that are always down for a Zoom chat or coffee date. It has has widened my perspective and given me a great group of friends I can always turn to.
Algargoush: This experience helped me to feel more comfortable being around domestic students. It’s usually hard for international students to get along with domestic students, but this opportunity opened many doors for me. It helped me be more social and feel welcomed. I even got to know more about campus events and be more involved.
Q: What advice would you give to students interested in working with the Friendship Program?
Dempsey: I would love to encourage everyone to get involved at the I-House and with the Friendship Program! I have learned so much about what’s going on around campus and had the opportunity to meet people from countless different majors, countries, and ages—it truly is an incredible experience. It can be a little scary putting yourself out there, but the Friendship Program makes sure everyone is comfortable and really tries to pair you with someone with whom you have a lot in common. It is such a unique experience on campus and would be beneficial for every student.
Algargoush: The Friendship Program is a great way for international and domestic students to learn about each other’s countries, cultures, and beliefs. This opportunity will also help you to be more open-minded and have the chance to learn so much information that you would never get from the internet.