iBuddy Program Promotes Friendships

Started by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the program strives to help international students adjust to college life here.


More than 200 students turned out for the January iBuddy event at the Marshall Student Center.      Photos: Laura Kneski | USF News


By Laura Kneski

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Jan. 31, 2013) – Inside the Marshall Student Center at the University of South Florida, students gathered to play games – bingo, beanbag toss and sack races.


It was a way to get students to mingle, to talk to each other, to talk about culture and adjusting to a new home. Some were from the United States. Some from countries around the globe.


The exchange is all part of something called iBuddy, an innovative program started by the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Its goal is to help international students experience a smooth transition into American college life.


iBuddy places international students with domestic students, usually in pairs, but the number of participants may allow for groups of three. Based off of a similar program that Multicultural Affairs Assistant Director Stacy Koshko Pippen encountered at another institution, it collaborated with international stakeholders around campus, who recruited many of the INTO students while the Office provided the domestic participants.


The kickoff event earlier this month allowed students to mingle with one another, either selecting iBuddies via conversation or making friends as pre-paired duos. Activities were set up in various areas of the Ballroom, including bingo, a beanbag toss, corn-hole and a potato sack race.


“You can kind of see the transition happen,” said Koshko Pippen, “The bingo game is a safe one, and it kind of forces you to meet people. Then they spread out and make new friends.”


The commitment to iBuddy lasts for seven weeks this year, as opposed to the five week program last spring. During iBuddy, partners are required to meet at least once a week, as well as to attend at least four events together. iBuddies have options occurring during different hours of the day and days of the week, just to make sure that everyone can fit most of the activities into their schedules.


Attending USF basketball games, a game night social, a scavenger hunt, and other student events are a part of both the USF and American experience. Graduate Advisor Aneshia Wilson sees these as parts of the biggest benefit to iBuddy: new friendships.


“Who wants to go to a basketball game by themselves? Exactly,” she said.


Wilson was in charge of organizing the event, with the help and creativity of students. Wilson said this year’s iBuddy program attracted more than 200 students - double the number from a year ago. The kickoff was met with almost 50 walk-ins, added to the 110 pre-registered U.S. students and the 80 pre-registered international students. However, registration did not end with the closing of the kickoff, setting over two-dozen more pairs that night until the end of registration.


iBuddy pair Lennon Inoa, a third-year USF student, and Sindra Chin, a first-year USF student who just moved from Malaysia, were excited to have been matched. Chin wanted to learn more about the American people and their culture and Inoa was eager to show her. In five minutes, Inoa had learned that Malaysian society is stricter than that of the U.S.


“In her country she’s not allowed to do a lot of the things that we do activity-wise like scuba-diving, skydiving, things that I like to do in my personal life. I think that, being her buddy now, I’ll be able to expose her to some of those things,” Inoa said.


The iBuddy Program is still changing. It will soon have its own blog so that iBuddies may share their experiences with a wider audience. The blog will be open to the public so that those who have never been involved with the program may construct a better idea of what it encompasses. Wilson said that next year the iBuddy Program will also include a Student Leadership board.


Koshko Pippen agreed with Wilson’s sentiment on friendship. iBuddy’s organizers are striving to make the transition for international students less shocking, and having someone to turn to for help and companionship is vital in that process.


“Statistics show that finding a place to belong and making friendships makes you feel more committed to the institution, more likely to stay and graduate, and so we want to help with the retention and graduation rates.”


Not only that, but the office encourages the crossing of cultural boundaries as well. Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs Aziz Talbani, addressed the Kickoff with this sentiment:


“If I said today that we have a thousand dollars to give away, how do you feel about that? We don’t have that money. What about an iPad? We don’t have that either. But you see, you like that idea of having something which has value. One of the famous French philosophers who did his studies on education, he said that the culture is their capital.”


The Office of Multicultural Affairs calendar of events may be found on their website at multicultural.usf.edu. Their Facebook is Facebook.com/MulticulturalUSF.