‘Every college needs programs like this’: International Friendship Program creates support system, promotes cultural exchange

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Photo by Shirley Liu

The International Friendship Program provides a support system for international students adjusting to a new country.

The transition from high school to college is a difficult adjustment for everyone. However, 16% of Lafayette students need to become accustomed to not just a new campus, but a new country too.

The International Friendship Program (IFP), which is headed by Assistant Director of Intercultural Development Janine Block and Student Coordinator Padmanabh Kaushik ‘25, aims to ease the transition to a new country by pairing first- and second-year international students with a faculty or staff member.

The goal of IFP is to provide support and community for international students as they acclimate to living and studying in the United States.

“[International students are] completely new to the campus when they come in, so even tiny bits of support, like how to approach a professor, how to get used to different aspects of campus — if they get that guidance, that’s a big thing,” Kaushik said.

As the student coordinator of IFP, Kaushik’s main responsibility is to review applications and pair students with a faculty or staff member. However, before becoming the coordinator, Kaushik participated in the program himself.

Kaushik was paired with Content Manager Shannon Sigafoos. With their shared interests in hiking and theater, the two of them hit it off instantly.

“She was really awesome,” Kaushik said. “I had a really good experience with her.”

The support that faculty and staff give to their international students varies from pair to pair. For Kaushik, who is originally from India, Sigafoos helped familiarize him with different aspects of American culture, such as Halloween. Kaushik valued having someone who he could go to for answers and support. 

“She was a really great moral support to me, honestly, in my difficult times,” he said.

It was this potential to provide a support system to international students that drew Sigafoos to the program.

“[IFP] gives [international students] somebody or a series of people on campus that they could relate to, and that they could go to if they needed advice, or just a friend or just somebody to help them get acclimated here,” Sigafoos said. “And I liked that idea. I liked that idea of helping students become, you know, much more comfortable at Lafayette, and feeling like they had someone they could reach out to if they really needed to, or wanted to.”

Although supporting international students is a big part of IFP, it isn’t the program’s only goal. IFP also aims to foster an understanding of cultures different from one’s own, as well as build cross-cultural communication and interpersonal skills. Sigafoos said that she learned as much from Kaushik as he did from her.

“The cultural differences he was learning from me, I’m learning from him,” Sigafoos said.

Sigafoos described the bond that IFP fosters between faculty and staff and their international students as “a symbiotic relationship.”

“[International students] bring a flavor and a culture and smiles and personalities and knowledge to Lafayette that we didn’t have before they got there … They come here to learn, but I hope that we learn as much from them as they do from us,” Sigafoos said.

“And I hope that our little corner of the world … helps their minds expand … I hope that what they get at Lafayette opens their mind to think that the sky is the limit,” she continued.

Although Sigafoos will soon be transitioning from a full-time position at Lafayette to a part-time one, she hopes to keep in touch with Kaushik. This is not out of the ordinary; according to Kaushik, there have even been past participants of IFP who attended their friendship partner’s wedding.

Ultimately, Kaushik and Sigafoos said that IFP is a crucial program at Lafayette.

“[IFP] provides [international students] a foundation to interact with somebody who’s more experienced with different aspects of the campus … I’ve been administering the program for like, six months. And that’s like, the greatest feedback I’ve ever got,” Kaushik said.

“Every college needs programs like this,” Sigafoos said. “I think it gives students a safe space to know … that somebody who genuinely wants to help them is invested in their life from that point forward, and wants to see them succeed and wants them to feel like this is a place where you make friends. This is a place where people look out for you.”