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Global Student Friendship Works to Make Transition to American Life Easier for ODU's International Students

When Kurnia Foe arrived in the United States from his native Indonesia, he literally looked in dumpsters for furniture for his young family's apartment.

"To be honest with you, it was a culture shock for me," Foe says. "I didn't know what to expect. My family put a lot of food in my suitcase when I came over, mostly food for me to survive."

Foe, a doctorate student in Electrical and Computer Engineering, has adapted nicely to life in Norfolk, Virginia. And he's made it a mission to help other students in his position make the transition to American life.

A few years ago, Foe founded the ODU campus group known as Global Student Friendship, whose goal is to provide a friendly contact with students new to the United States. "When I think of what we went through, I think international students today almost have it too easy," Foe says with a laugh.

That's partly because of the work that Global Student Friendship has done. The main effort has been in finding furniture for international students who are on a tight budget, and need assistance in navigating just about everything in this new environment.

To accomplish that, Foe reached out to Tabernacle Church of Norfolk. The church's weekly furniture drive has been redirected, so that it now supplies furniture to dozens of ODU international students every week.

"We usually receive emails from students during the week asking for couches, mattresses, study desks, kitchen utensils, and other things," Foe says. "All are free of charge. No strings attached. We help students whatever their country, belief, background, and race are. If we have it, we are happy to give it for free to needy International students not only studying at ODU but also other local colleges. I really appreciate the generous giving from people of Tabernacle Church of Norfolk."

Kathy Hardison, director of Global Friendship House at Tabernacle Church of Norfolk, says her congregation has a "unique opportunity" to reach out to the more than 2,000 future national leaders from more than 100 countries who are studying at ODU.

"How will they be treated? What impressions will they take home with them about this powerful nation and the Christians who live here? We have a wonderful opportunity to build relationships with truly delightful young men and women of different cultures and faiths, and we can freely share ideas and beliefs in a warm, caring environment based on mutual trust and respect. Could there be a better way to learn about the world?" Hardison says.

Parishioners have gotten involved by helping pick up international students at the airport, providing them a place to stay while they look for an apartment, and helping with all the other ways they can to "help them to adjust to this strange place called Norfolk."

Hardison says Foe is an inspiration to her and many of her fellow parishioners. "Kurnia Foe is a tremendous example of selfless love reaching out to serve his fellow students, and we love to learn as we watch him in action!" she says.

"If my daughter were studying in another country, I know I would be anxious about her, wondering if anyone would help her. So, when I meet parents who come to Norfolk to visit their child, I am hugged by mothers with tears in their eyes, and I understand!"

Global Student Friendship is partnering with Office of Intercultural Relations at ODU to serve and assist international students at ODU. Foe hopes that Global Student Friendship will benefit not only International students, but also the university. "We hope small pieces of service that we give to international students here at ODU will help them functioning well in their life. And then it contributes to their academic and research work. At the end, it will benefit ODU and hopefully it could attract more prospective International students to come to ODU."

The group has also organized bus tours for new international students to downtown Norfolk and Naval Base, along with monthly get-togethers at peoples' houses, where they play party games and have potluck suppers featuring dishes from the various countries.

"And I can't forget the role of my wife (Lian) in this, as well," Foe says. "She works hard to reach out to the wives of international students. Someone like me can make acquaintances at work. But the wife can have no contact with anyone. It's very lonely."

If you'd like to get involved in the volunteer work of Global Student Friendship, or have some furniture to donate to the cause, contact Sundeep Bodapati, vice-president of Global Student Friendship, at sboda001@odu.edu.

This article was posted on: March 4, 2010

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