Community Friends program fosters friendships, cultural connections with international students

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Suzanne Cooney '85 M.P.H., a Community Friends volunteer with the student she hosted, Elizabeth Babalola '14 M.E.M. of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

For the hundreds of international students who arrive on Yale’s campus each August, Yale’s Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) offers hospitality and guidance through its Community Friends of Yale International Students program.

Community Friends fosters intercultural exchange and understanding by matching local New Haven residents with incoming international students. Single people, couples, and families of all sizes can volunteer to be Community Friends hosts.

Community Friends is not a home-stay program. Rather, students and hosts form relationships via sharing meals, exchanging cultural traditions, attending activities, and more. Students gain a source of support and guidance in the local community and a chance to experience U.S. culture, while hosts get to learn about another culture first hand and see their own through a visitor’s eyes.

Suzanne Cooney ’ 85 M.P.H. hosted Elizabeth Babalola, a student from Nigeria studying for two years at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. “We say that we are friends for life,” Cooney said of Babalola. In fact, Cooney is planning a visit to Nigeria next year.

“I would recommend the program to others … because it is a wonderful way to learn about another country and culture and to help a young person learn about the USA,” Cooney said. “It feels good to know that you have supported young students in their educational aspirations and personal development.”

OISS is actively seeking new hosts for this program. Those interested in becoming volunteers should visit or email Maria Gutierrez, Assistant Director for Programs at OISS, at

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