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Agency Spotlight: Bloomington Worldwide Friendship

Explore the World with Bloomington Worldwide Friendship

By: Mercedez McDowell

BWF Hiromi and Harriet 1 Hiromi Sumiyoshi & Hariet KulisHave you ever seen international students on campus? Have you ever invited them into your home for some American hospitality?

Bloomington Worldwide Friendship (BWF) is an organization dedicated to making international students feel welcome. Co-presidents Harriet Kulis and Hiromi Sumiyoshi describe BWF as a program that allows students to be matched with host-families, expanding their cultural experiences in America.

Each student is invited into the family's home a minimum of three times per semester for various activities. These activities may include a conversation over a cup of coffee, attending an Indiana University football game, or visiting the Farmers' Market.

During each I.U. International Student Orientation Week, BWF greets over 1200 new students. Out of those, over 200 students sign up to be paired with a host-family. Because of this great annual addition of BWF students, Kulis and Sumiyoshi agreed that "new host families" are their greatest need.

Host families ensure the success of BWF through their passion. "Most of the families . . . have a passion for showing a side of America - a human side - to international students," Kulis said.

According to Sumiyoshi, many international students have not had the opportunity to travel and explore BWF Hiromi and Harriet 2 different lifestyles, so "they only know what they see in the movies. They probably hear a lot of negative things about Americans," Sumiyoshi explained. "Once they come here they have positive surprises like finding out American people are very friendly… by interacting personally with their particular family."

Bloomington Worldwide Friendship offers a match that allows the families and students to learn from one another. In fact, as a host herself, Kulis described it as an opportunity to explore the world. "My husband and I have had students from Senegal, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan; places I will never be able to travel to," Kulis explained, "and it gives me a chance to learn a little slice of life about their culture and what their ambitions and goals are, not only individually but as part of being from that particular country." Through BWF, families can grow into a worldwide network. "My husband and I don't have children but we have an Indonesian grandchild now."

Some advice for fellow volunteer coordinators
"Trying to apply new ideas to such an established organization," Sumiyoshi said, "is a challenge." However, volunteer coordinators should have an open mind about the input of team members. When it comes to recruitment, Sumiyoshi tells volunteer coordinators to be creative in their approach, and always remember to have fun. "This isn't work, so you shouldn't take it too seriously."

Some advice for prospective volunteers
Kulis and Sumiyoshi encourage volunteers to find their passion for an organization. BWF currently has members who have been hosts for over 40 years due to their passion to learn, teach, and explore. "I can go back to one particular meal in the spring," Kulis said, "Ten of us with a variety of cultures were sitting around a table and enjoying the moment." BWF is not about the conflict of differences, but about uniting through understanding. For every volunteer interested in a place of companionship, remember the BWF phrase: "Bloomington Worldwide Friendship is helping to create a world of friends."