Global Friendship Program fosters connection, cultural exchange

The Global Friendship Program provides international students a home at Baylor. Photo courtesy of Brandon Hoye

By Sarah Wang | Reporter

The Global Friendship Program is a program that aims to connect international students who are new to Baylor and the country and to accommodate them into the new environment by pairing them up with local student partners or host families, according to its website.

According to the Global Friendship Program’s brochure, it not only offers a variety of activities that can meet international and U.S. students’ needs but also helps them acquire a smoother transition to college. The program also establishes rewarding and lifelong relationships among its participants.

The Global Friendship Program has been at Baylor since at least 1999, according to Brandon Hoye, the international programs coordinator and overall sponsor of the program.

Hoye said the program from its outset was a way to pair international students arriving at Baylor with local families. Participants can enroll as a U.S. student partner, an international partner or a family parter.

“We don’t have hard requirements,” Hoye said.”We try to have it be in a very collegial or kind of a friendship that develops. We know everybody comes to the program offering what they are able to, so we really let it be kind of customized and unique to each relationship that builds there.”

Hoye said the Global Friendship Program actually helps other student groups besides local and international students, which are posted on its website, called Third Culture Kid (TCK).

“TCK will be a student that is a U.S. citizen that maybe have never actually lived in the United States,” Hoye said. “It’s possible they’ve lived with their family [at] all different points around the world, and from their standpoint, coming to study at Baylor is kind of a study abroad experience because they are not going to have the same type of cultural touch points, language, code, even culinary.”

“We want to make sure students are able to apply, depending on how they would identify in that area,” Hoye said.

Host families, or family partners, also play a role in the program.

Esther Zhao is an international graduate from Baylor who now works at Baylor’s international admissions office. This year, Zhao applied to be a family partner and hosted two international students.

“It is a blessing for me and my family to host international students as to help them transitioning to college life at Baylor and make them feel welcomed by the Baylor family,” Zhao said.

“The most valuable experience for us would be spending quality time with students and hearing their perspectives,” Zhao said. “ We took our students, Jenny and Junna, to Florida this past Christmas and New Year to celebrate the holidays.”

Apart from cultivating student-host and student-student relationships, international students in the same host family can develop relationships as well.

Nigeria sophomore Joseph Molokwu enrolled in the Global Friendship Program his freshman year. Unfortunately, most of his connections were done virtually at that time due to the pandemic, but he is still positive about the program.

“I would definitely recommend this program to other international students, even if just for their first semester on campus,” Molokwu said. “Even though the majority of my meetings were over Zoom just because of university policy at that time, I did see them around campus and still say ‘hi’ to this day.”

Shanghai, China, senior Yunting Ling said she joined the program wishing to find a more smooth transition in her academics, but she ended up receiving many more benefits than she expected.

“The most special experience I had in Global Friendship Program was during the spring break, during which I introduced my family and our tradition to set off fireworks every spring festival to my American partner,” Ling said.

Such cultural exchange is a crucial factor that enables the Global Friendship Program to stand out as a valuable and diversified activity on Baylor’s campus, according to Hoye.

“I would say one of the best benefits of the Global Friendship Program is you are able to learn more about the world,” Hoye said. “And you have people connected with the program wanting to be able to learn more and are excited to meet somebody from around the world.”