Friends and family comfort oversees students

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

A native of Thailand, Kong Eng has traded the security of his home country for the opportunity to obtain an education at an American college. He is a junior at Lafatette College, studying electrical engineering, and probably won't return to Thailand until after his graduation in May 1981.

Kong eng misses his family, but in the United States he has been matched with a "friend family," which has become both friends and family for him.

In the Lehigh Valley, where Lafayette is situated, a volunteer organization called CISH, the Council for International Student Hospitality, helps foreign students become accustomed to this country.

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Organizations like CISH exist across the United States. Many of them were formed with the help of the National Association of Foreign Student Affairs, founded in 1948 to promote the interests of foreign students and provide a professional organization for those who work with these students on college campuses.

Kong Eng's friend family consists of Oley and Marian Cunningham of Easton, Pa., and their three daughters. Their home has become a retreat from the campus for Kong Eng -- whether he goes there for dinner, a picnic, or just an evening talking by the fire.

"It is very nice to have a friend family," says Kong Eng. "It gives me a place to go away from the campus for an hour or a weekend. It has been very useful in learning more about American life, particularly family life. It is interesting to hear the way American parents talk to their children. They are more casual than parents in my country."

The Cunninghams are enthusiastic supporters of CISH. "it's the best thing we've ever done. We've adopted another Lafayette student this year, Mofidul Islam of Bangladesh. He and Kong Eng know they don't have to wait to be invited to our home. They're welcome anytime."

CISH is funded through donations by area churches, civic organizations, and individuals and serves students from eight Lehigh Valley colleges. At the present time 178 students have been matched with 140 families in the area. Mrs. Joseph O'Keefe, registrar for the organization, says a great deal of effort is made to match students and families with similar interests. The Cunninghams attest to the success of their effort: Mr. Cunningham is an electrical engineer, which delights Kong Eng, who is studying in the same area. And Mofidul, an avid tennis player, discovered that both Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham play too.

CISH maintains a furniture bank, which is particularly helpful to graduate and married students furnishings an apartment. A student needing a refrigerator or pots and pans or any of a myriad of life's other necessities can obtain them from the bank. When a student leaves the United States the furniture is returned to the bank, available for another arrival.

But it's the friend families that really make CISH popular. It gives the students a chance to meet people outside the college community, especially children, older people, and teen-agers, that they don't see on campus. For the families it is a special opportunity to learn from a native about a foreign country, in exchange for occasionally setting an extra place at the dinner table and being willing to talk, listen, and give support as they would to a son or daughter.

For more information on how to find or start an international service organization such as CISH, contact your nearby college -- or the college you plan to attend -- or write to the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs at 1860 19th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009 or call (202) 462-4811. m

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