UCIE | Photo by Emily Linker | The Wright State Guardian
For involved international students, the non-profit International Friendships Organization (IFI) in Dayton, Ohio may be of interest.
The organization works in partnership with the University Center for International Education (UCIE) office, local churches and communities with the purpose of helping international students to feel at home while they come for studies in the United States.
IFI serves students from various universities in the Dayton area such as Wright State University (WSU), Cedarville University, University of Dayton and Sinclair Community College. They regularly organize events with an opportunity to get acquainted with students from different parts of the world and the chance to share their own culture.
Start of IFI in Dayton
Back in 2012, Larissa Swartz, as a first-year undergraduate student majoring in Spanish, became involved in the process of establishing IFI as a student organization at WSU.
“I met Gloria Kelios, who was teaching in the Learning English for Academic and Professional Purposes (LEAP) program, the intensive English program at WSU,” Swartz said. “As a former international student from Malaysia, she [Gloria] knew very well the many practical needs of international students and observed that there was a need in the Dayton area for an organization like IFI.”
Today, Swartz is the current IFI Dayton Area Leader while Gloria Kelios works with different IFI locations as the National Field Director. They have continued to work side by side starting from day one of founding IFI in Dayton.
“Gloria divinely connected with a local American couple, Lynn and Roger Brucker, who offered their home for our weekly IFI meetings,” Swartz said. “Up until COVID-19, we have met in their basement with groups from five to 105 people since the fall of 2012.”
The primary focus of IFI is to promote hospitality and friendship. The organization can help every international student, especially in the first months after coming to the new country, to adjust to the culture by connecting with locals.
“The best way to truly know a culture is through close relationships with people from that culture,” Swartz said. “The greatest challenge in our society today is truly listening and learning from people that are different than we are.”
IFI is the place where you can become involved in a variety of activities, connect with new people from different countries and learn something new about other cultures.
“Our goal is to make the world feel at home – whether through food, games, trips, events or good conversations about the important things in life,” Swartz said.
Christian volunteers at IFI can assist students with airport pick up, temporary housing, driving lessons, grocery shopping and many other activities that all international students might seek at some point when starting life in a foreign country.
“IFI and its volunteers believe that our perspectives are changed and strengthened through relationship and hospitality because of how we ourselves experience God’s love and hospitality towards us,” said Swartz.
Besides highlighting traditional American holidays, IFI tries to celebrate all international events that students used to have in their home countries.
Free care bags
Usually, IFI in Dayton has been presented across different student events on the WSU campus, but because of the pandemic situation, they started to make the first interaction with every student by giving free care bags.
“We packed and personally delivered, door-to-door, over 450 care bags to both current and incoming international students this last year. These bags included masks, sanitizer, snacks, ramen, a notepad, instant coffee, and a paper with local Dayton restaurants and places to check out,” Swartz said.
The major place of IFI in Dayton, where most events happen, is the Trueman House in Fairborn, Ohio. As soon as you enter it, you start to immerse yourself into the international atmosphere. You can notice hanging countries’ flags on the wall and feel a mixture of spices in the air of different countries in the kitchen. This is where students start feeling a part of the community.
Regardless of the religion or culture international students have, they are all welcome at IFI in Dayton. Follow IFI Facebook and Instagram page to stay up to date about all new events and activities they offer.