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BHSU continues to connect international students with local families through the Family Connection Program, which matches students with a family for an academic school year. This program seeks to build lasting relationships and create rewarding international experiences for both BHSU international students and local families.

Black Hills State University connects international students with local families through the Family Connection Program, which matches students with a family for an academic school year. This program seeks to build lasting relationships and create rewarding international experiences for both students and families.

In January 2017, Kari Webb, science education specialist at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, and her family joined the BHSU Family Connection Program. They were connected with BHSU students HanSung Kim and Jihoon Lee, from South Korea, and Ai Asama, from Japan. During the spring semester, the Webb family invited HanSung, Jihoon, and Ai to join them on local adventures. They hiked Crow Peak and Bear Butte, biked down Higgins Gulch, decorated and hunted for Easter eggs, and, as Ai put it, “Ate a lot of food!”

“We didn’t plan huge events. Rather, we were able to spontaneously invite them to participate in our own enjoyment of the area,” Webb explains. “If we were going on a bike ride or just ordering pizza, we’d call them up and see if they wanted to join!”

The Family Connection Program often broadens the international students’ appreciation of the Spearfish area. International students, who frequently lack transportation, are able to get out and explore with the help of their connection families. Whether it’s driving students through Spearfish Canyon or giving them a lift to Walmart, families are able to bring students into the region surrounding the BHSU campus.

Students involved with the program often appreciate the opportunity to practice their English skills outside of the academic setting. Webb encourages families considering the program not to be daunted by communication barriers.

“The best part of the experience is growing an appreciation for how challenging it must be for these students to be learning in a second language,” Webb says. “At first, we had some miscommunication about place or time, but, as time went on, we got better and better at becoming good listeners and communicators.”

The Family Connection Program has also developed a greater appreciation of the cultures represented in the group. By cooking a homemade meal, sharing photographs of past travels and homes, or talking about traditional family customs, students and families gain a window into another way of life.

“We genuinely appreciated learning about South Korea and Japan through the eyes of our international students, and we learned so much from them,” says Webb. “I absolutely feel that every moment I spend with the international students is of value to me and helps to broaden my global perspective.”

Families are invited to support their students’ achievements on campus, as well. During the 2017 spring semester, Ai worked with the International Office at BHSU to plan the International Food Festival, which transformed the BHSU cafeteria into a global market, featuring foods prepared by international students from their respective countries.

Both Kari and her husband James attended the festival. Kari said they took great pride in seeing all three of their international students sharing their country’s cuisine with the BHSU community.

As exchange students, HanSung and Jihoon returned to South Korea in May of 2018. Ai, however, as a degree-seeking student at BHSU, has remained in Spearfish and continued her relationship with the Webb family.

“My favorite thing about the program was sharing my time,” Ai says. “It’s hard to feel ‘at home’ when I’m so far away from my family in Japan. But when I come into the Webb house, it feels like coming home.”

There is no cost to participate in the Family Connection Program, neither is this a live-in, host family arrangement. The goal is simply to connect international students with families who are willing to invest in meaningful relationships and have fun!

The International Relations and Global Engagement Office at BHSU has reported substantial growth over the past three years. There are 71 international students enrolled at BHSU this fall, an increase of 29 percent. This year BHSU has students enrolled from a record 36 countries around the globe. There has also been a significant increase in the number of students that participate in study abroad programs.

To sign up for the Family Connection Program, contact Alysha Weiler at the BHSU Office of International Relations & Global Engagement by calling 605-642-6942 or emailing international@bhsu.edu