OLIVIA FOSTER, TRUMPET STAFF WRITER
Since 1980, “Friendship families,” provided homes away from home to international Wartburg students. For many, the relationships have extended beyond the four years students spend at Wartburg.
For Bob and Kris Brunkhorst, being a friendship family to Wartburg students for the past 20 years has been one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives, they said. They have hosted a dozen students and each of them has left their mark.
“Hosting students from other countries is something that I think benefits us as much as the students, if not more,” Bob Brunkhorst said. “Learning about the different cultures and backgrounds that students come from impacts our lives in a way that we wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s a very unique experience.”
Bjorn and Lindsay Skie are also experienced hosts to international Wartburg students. They have been a friendship family to eight students over the past 10 years.
The Skie family have a special place in their heart for making international students feel at home.
“I’m an alum of Wartburg and I was an international student myself,” Bjorn Skie said. “So I know firsthand the impact that a friendship family can have, and we kind of wanted to pay that forward and have new international
; students feel at home with us.”
This sentiment is shared by many international students who have felt the positive effects.
“My host family is from India and I can speak with them a bit, so it is like a piece of my home is here,” Shanta Nagarkoti, a second-year international student from Nepal, said. “They cook food that reminds me of home and always make me feel welcome and happy.”
Nagarkoti is in a different situation with her friendship family than most. A few months ago, the family moved back to India, where they are originally from. Even though her friendship family moved across the ocean, Nagarkoti has found ways to keep in touch with them and connect with other families.
“We like to have bonfires in our backyard and get a lot of international students together,” Bob Brunkhorst said.
One of the most important parts of the friendship family program is regular visits. Families are encouraged to get together with their students about once a month.
During these visits, the families can do a variety of activities, with one of the most popular options being hosting a meal with food from the students’ culture.
“One of our students made us a wonderful drink from Turkey, where he is from when he came to our house,” Kris Brunkhorst said. “Being able to learn from the students and experience their different cultures is something we’ll never forget. And the food is always so good.”
Sometimes, the students will even invite their friendship families to events in place of their families at home.
“One of our students had a ceremony he invited us to,” Lindsay Skie said. “It’s things like that where family can miss out on it when they are far away, so I’m glad we were able to step in and be his cheerleaders.”
Introducing the students to their hobbies is another thing that some families like to do during their visits. Activities like ice fishing, maple syrup making, shopping, and hiking are popular ways to acquaint students with the Waverly area while they get to know the family.
“My family took me to the most beautiful place in Iowa,” Mahmoud Osman, a second-year student from Sudan, said. “It was a Christmas light show in Sumner. The lights on the houses flashed in time with the music. That’s one of the best memories I have with my friendship family.”
The benefits often last longer than the student’s time at Wartburg. Many families keep in touch with students who have graduated through messaging, social media and visits.
“We will message back and forth and we will send them packages for their birthdays and stuff like that. It really can be a lifelong connection,” Kris Brunkhorst said.
The Skie family stayed in touch with several students over the years.
“Even a message here or there just to check in after they have graduated can keep that bond going,” Lindsay Skie said. “We spend four years getting to know the students and when they leave, we don’t want to lose the connection.”
Relationships that are built between friendship families and students have become a large part of the international student experience at Wartburg.
“Having a place I can go and people I can talk to when I miss home is so nice. Having food that reminds me of home and being able to feel comfortable with my family has made my time at Wartburg better,” Nagarkoti said.
If you are interested in becoming a friendship family, email Wendy Mohlis at firstname.lastname@example.org.