What is First Friends?
First Friends facilitates cross-cultural exchange through friendship, connecting Vanderbilt University international students with Americans on and off campus. An annual program coordinated by International Students & Scholar Services (ISSS), First Friends begins each academic year as hundreds of students travel from around the world to study at Vanderbilt. International students join First Friends to experience American life and culture. At the same time, they bring unique experiences from their home countries that they are ready and willing to share with new friends.
How Does it Work?
ISSS draws partners from a variety of community sources, including civic and religious groups, as well as Vanderbilt faculty and staff. Interested partners must go through a background check and attend a First Friends orientation session, hosted by ISSS. Interested students also attend an orientation prior to meeting their partners. Qualified partners are then matched and introduced in the early fall semester.
First Friend partners schedule visits with one another but are encouraged to meet at least once a month. Time spent together need not be extravagant. Partners often invite students for a family meal as a good starting point. Many students simply want to see how Americans live on a daily basis. An invitation to a routine family activity may be more interesting than a special performance or planned event. Because First Friends is intended to be a cultural exchange, the relationship should be reciprocal. Students and partners alike are encouraged to take the initiative in sharing their own cultural practices in this mutual friendship experience.
In Their Own Words
“First Friends is a wonderful program that offers so much to both the visiting student and the partners. Through our family’s participation in the program, we have made friends with people from cultures that we might never have come into contact with otherwise. For us, the Match Day Picnic is the perfect starting point. From there, we have enjoyed cultural exchanges of food, sport, family and ideas.”
Brad & Michelle Ungurait, Partner
“First Friends is about giving and taking. My First Friend, Barbara, has a lot she can give me. She offers me rides in her car and invites me to her house for dinner. With all that comes great conversation, laughter, and learning about the ‘American way of life.’ But the program also gives me the opportunity to share my culture with someone who hasn’t been to my home country. The First Friends program is a great way to meet people from Nashville who are not necessarily part of the Vanderbilt community where I spend most of my time anyway. I am grateful for the hospitality and friendship. It certainly makes my American experience richer.”
Melanie Fritsch, VU German student
“[ISSS] matches the background of First Friends in terms of hobbies and experiences, so the chance is good that people will find common interests and actually become friends. What I like best in my friend is that we share our cultures, personal experiences, and family stories. She invited me to dinner at home, to concerts, hiking, and cafes. I took her to a Chinese restaurant and taught her and her grade school students about Chinese art and folk tradition. Knowing that I have a friend here to laugh with and to care for me has improved my experience in the U.S.”
Xiaolun QI, VU Chinese student
How Can I Join?
The application for First Friends 2023 has now closed. If you have any questions, or if you are interested in becoming a First Friend to a student next year, please email Andrea in ISSS.