Organization Welcomes International Students, Brings All Students Together

The Conway location of the Arkansas International Friendship Outreach organization held its weekly Conversation Club to welcome and integrate international students into the local community at the Second Baptist student center.

The Conversation Club is hosted by IFO Conway every Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m., and its purpose is to allow international students studying at Conway universities to meet community members, practice speaking english and get connected with the local ministries and churches that partner with IFO, according to the organization’s website.

The event consists of a dinner provided by volunteers from partnering churches in Conway, and students from Central Baptist College, Hendrix College and the University of Central Arkansas.

IFO Conway director LaJuana Magee said international students, local students and church members normally attend each Conversation Club meeting. They are open to the public and allow new attendees to come each week.

 “I think that the main purpose of this thing is to invite students from UCA and Hendrix and CBC and like all over Conway to just meet each other, CBC junior Autumn Jones said. I love coming because I have a special place in my heart for the international students. I love to meet them and learn about their cultures and their languages and lives and everything they have to share with us”.

The events attract both returning and new visitors.

UCA junior Aubrey Liew, who is a returning attendee of the Conversation Club meetings and other IFO events said, “I have been to a number of dinners here and I think it is a good thing because it helps me to get to know a lot of people and learn about the United states and Conway”.

The International Friendship Outreach organization opened in Arkansas in Little Rock at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock and University of Arkansas medical school campuses in 1991, and it opened its Conway branch in 2001.

UCA international student and junior Thayalani Heimkumar said, “We get to make friends here, even with each other when we never would have before so it’s the best way to meet people”.

Magee said that the organization wants to offer hospitality to the roughly 1.8 million international students in Arkansas and allow them to make connections with Arkansas natives instead of living in the U.S. without ever entering an American home.

Other aspects of IFO events include getting the students out of their comfort zones, practicing their language skills, serving meals, and hosting fun events.

The group is having an annual picnic in the Petit Jean State Park on April 1.

Magee said they offer meals in order to show hospitality and make the students feel welcome in their new environment.

She also said they use discussion questions and social gatherings to welcome them, and that all of organization’s events are done with these goals in mind.

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