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UT senior Lauren Wurth spent the fall 2010 semester studying at Swansea University in Wales and came home completely enamored with the United Kingdom and all the things she experienced across the pond.
When she heard about the Friendship Program through the University of Tennessee, Knoxville's International House, she thought it might give her the opportunity to befriend international students about to have the same experience she had.
Soon Wurth got the e-mail assigning her a buddy: Justine Ackland, a junior in American studies.
Wurth was thrilled to learn that Ackland hailed from her beloved Swansea University. As she drove up to Andy Holt Apartments and saw Ackland, Wurth had a strange sense of déjà vu. Her first thought was, "She's going to think I'm crazy."
Likewise, one of the first things Ackland said was, "I feel like I know you."
It turns out, when Wurth was at Swansea, she and Ackland had an American studies class together. On top of that, Ackland worked in a university office Wurth had visited to get her bus pass.
The two hit it off immediately. They have spent a lot of time together this semester, and Wurth has helped Ackland enjoy some very American experiences, like eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts and celebrating her twenty-first birthday.
Recently, Wurth took Ackland to Memphis to meet her family and tour the city. The girls were able to attend a Memphis Grizzlies basketball game, see the Peabody Hotel ducks, visit Graceland, and go to an underground railroad museum.
"It was really cool to see an American house," Ackland said "American homes are so huge compared to ours, and they had their own swimming pool. We just don't have that."
In addition to having adventures together, Wurth and Ackland have become great friends.
"Once you study abroad, you miss it for the rest of your life, which is why it's great to have her," Wurth said. "I miss Swansea, but now she's here and I can talk to her about things my other friends are sick of hearing. It satisfies my nostalgia. I don't know what I'll do when she goes."
Ackland said the Friendship Program has enhanced her experience in America.
"It was nice to be connected with someone and automatically have a friend without having to find one," she said. "You have a friend straightaway to teach you the ropes."
The Programs Abroad Office's Buddy Program recently merged with the I-House's International Friendship Program.
"Not many changes have been made with the merging of the programs, but we did have some nice coincidences," said Qi Fu, an I-House graduate assistant and coordinator of the new Friendship Program.
The Buddy Program was aimed at exchange students. In combining the programs, it is now open for incoming and returning exchange students, international students at UT, and other students who want to get to know people from other countries. Students apply by filling out an application prior to each semester, and matches are made based on common interests and expectations.
However, students aren't limited to their assigned friend and often get together as groups after everyone gets to know each other.
Another opportunity for cultivating international friendships is the International Roommate Program through UT Housing. This is a way for American students to have exchange students and other international students for roommates.
Fu said students can learn more about the campus' international community even without committing to one of these programs.
"The things that the Friendship Program offers to the participants actually happen at the I-House every day," Fu said. "It's an opportunity to expand your horizons. You never know who you will meet and maybe you will be friends in the long run—we have many alumni of the program who are still friends. You can get one or multiple partners through the program or just come and hang out here. The house is for everyone, not just international students."