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Nov. 2, 2022
By Karissa Rickman, communication assistant
Friends of International Students (FIS), a Northwest Missouri State University organization, is helping students connect with the community outside of campus life and providing community members with an opportunity to learn about various cultures.
Northwest staff members Dr. Egon and Ann Heidendal are mentors to Aisah Domitilia Barandica through the Friends of International Students program. (Photo by Lauren Adams/Northwest Missouri State University)
Aisah Domitilia Barandica shows a fish she caught during a tour of a local farm this fall with the Friends of International Students. (Submitted photo)
The organization matches interested residents and families in the Maryville community with international students at Northwest. It provides support to international students as they adjust to their new homes in Maryville while promoting friendship and understanding among people of different nationalities.
“Once you’re matched, it’s a friendship,” said Terra Feick, an assistant library director at Northwest who is involved with FIS. “The family or individual students that get matched together will work to meet with one another at least once a month for different activities such as a meal, movie nights or participate in seasonal activities.”
Dr. Egon Heidendal, the interim vice president of culture at Northwest, has been a “friend” to international students through with FIS for 12 years. Before that, he joined the organization while he was an exchange student at Northwest from the Netherlands.
After graduating from Northwest with a bachelor’s degree in interactive digital media, Heidendal decided to come back to the University to earn a master’s degree in business administration. Although he was active on campus, he realized he hadn’t made many connections within the Maryville community, a thought that inspired him to participate in FIS.
Today, he and his wife, Ann, a graduate records specialist at Northwest, host international students through their involvement with FIS.
“As a student, being a part of FIS allowed me to experience not ‘movie America’ but real American life,” Heidendal said. “I chose to be a host family as someone was there for me throughout my involvement with the program, and I now get to return that favor to current students through my involvement in the program.”
Aisah Domitilia Barandica, a freshman psychology major from the Dutch Caribbean island  of Curaçao, joined FIS this fall and is paired with the Heidendals. Despite her short time on campus, she already has developed connections through her involvement with FIS.
“Being an international student has been really hard,” she said. “I’m so far away from my culture and support system. But the FIS program has provided me with a way to establish a support system away from home. Egon and Ann have been so nice to me, and they have provided a way for me to stay in touch with my culture by telling them more about it.”
For more information about Friends of International Students, visit www.nwmissouri.edu/international/services/friends/, or send an email to FIS@nwmissouri.edu to get involved.
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