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Program seeks friends for foreign students

Students who are new to the United States as well as MIT appreciate someone who can show them the ropes or just lend an ear. The MIT Hosts to International Students Program (HISP) is looking for Institute staff members who can help by being a friend to these students.

HISP matches foreign undergraduate and graduate students with American "hosts" who act as friends and mentors, staying in touch with the student by phone or in person, commiserating during exams, alleviating the occasional loneliness and generally "just letting the student know somebody cares" as the newcomers adjust to life in the United States and MIT, said Kate Baty, HISP coordinator. The program is purely social; the International Students Office and other support services handle problems relating to visas, academics and other issues.

Although the foreign students live in a dorm or other housing, they sometimes visit their hosts' homes, and often, "they become a special person in that family," Ms. Baty said. She first began hosting students 29 years ago when her daughter was small, "and now she has friends all over the world."


All foreign students accepted at MIT (about 650 per year) are invited to participate in the program, and up to 200 apply for a host each year. Since a host often stays with the same student for his or her entire degree program, "we constantly need a pool of new volunteers," Ms. Baty said. Many of the applicants are from Asia (particularly China), but there are also students from Europe, South America and Africa. Couples with and without children also participate.

Hosts (many of whom have more than one student) may specify the gender and country of origin they prefer-for example, someone who is learning Japanese and wants a conversation partner may ask to be paired with a student from Japan. The program will accommodate such requests as nearly as possible from the current pool of applicants.

Some hosts are former Peace Corps volunteers who want to maintain connections to the countries in which they worked. It's also a good way for recent retirees to keep up their links to the Institute, Ms. Baty noted.

HISP will hold brief orientation (evening) sessions for prospective hosts on the following dates: Thursday, Aug. 29 and Tuesday, Sept. 10 from 6-8 pm at MIT, and Wednesday, Sept. 11 from 7:30-9:30pm in Lexington. Contact Ms. Baty at x3-4862 or to get more information.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on August 28, 1996.

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