International students need local sponsors
Students from around the globe mix-and-mingle at the January IMSO social at Divots.

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (February 14, 2013) -- For those seeking to expand their knowledge of another culture or wanting to help the Fort Rucker community, the International Military Student Office offers an opportunity for people to open their minds as a social student and spouse sponsor.

The International Student Sponsorship Program is an opportunity to bridge the gap between the known and the unknown for international students and their spouses, and is a chance for locals to expand their knowledge and understanding of a different culture, according to Eduardo Pineiro, IMSO field studies program coordinator.

"In the U.S. military it is traditional to 'sponsor' newcomers by extending hospitality and assistance, and this program is a great way for international students to see the United States, meet local people and their Families. It is also a fun way to learn about the 'real' United States, and not necessarily what Hollywood and the media portrays in films, TV shows, newspapers and magazines," he said.

A sponsor is a person who introduces the student or spouse to American culture outside of Fort Rucker and helps them get acquainted with American customs as well as helping them navigate around the culture.

"There is no maximum or minimum commitment and there is no financial responsibility on the sponsor. They can pay for things as a friendly gesture if they like, but it is not necessary," he said.

The intent of the program is to provide international military students and spouses with a direct view of life in the United States through social interaction.

"It is up to the sponsor and the student what they do, how often they get together and where they would like to go. Social sponsors do lots of things like eat dinner at each other's houses, go to the movies, go sightseeing, go putt-putt or bowling, go to local high school or college sport events together, go shopping together, or go on trips to the beach or Atlanta together. It is whatever they agree on and where their interests lie," said Pineiro.

About 20 sponsors are needed.

"We match the sponsors to the student or the student's spouse. Sponsors can support as many students as they like, but we try to pair them up or link them up with Families who like the same activities," he said.

A sponsor is an ambassador that provides the best image of the U.S., according to Pineiro, where both parties equally learn from each other.

"When students or spouses have a sponsor, they know a lot more about American life. A sponsor is a direct link for them, so the students usually have great things to say about American life when they return home. When they have a positive experience with the sponsors it reflects positively on the United States, because at that moment, as a sponsor, people represent the United States.

"No matter what the students read or watch in the news, the most impact that the students are going to receive is going to be from the Americans that interacted with them. They are not going to repeat the bad news about America, they are going to remember the good people they met while here who helped them," he said.

Likewise, according to Pineiro, the sponsored student's country becomes not just a name in the evening news or on a map, but a warm place in the sponsor's heart.

Also for the sponsor, learning a new culture helps opens their minds and become flexible in different ways and helps "us as human beings understand each other better."

"Sponsors learn about their students' cultures as well. They learn about the food, language, people, religion and the day-to-day life of someone who is not from America. It is not a one-way street, the sponsor learns just as much as they teach," said Maj. Abdulaziz Al Hammad, the Saudi Arabian liaison.

Many people will not get the opportunity to travel abroad, and sponsoring a student or spouse is one way someone can intimately expand their understanding of a different culture without leaving America.

"It can give the sponsor a contact that can help if they do decide to travel to their student's country or a country in their region. It also helps open people's minds and make them more comfortable with the idea of traveling to another country. It forms friendships because you teach each other in a fun way," said Hammad.

It is the spouses that benefit the most from sponsors because, according to the international liaisons, they are isolated in their houses and don't have a handle on English like the students do.

"They get very bored, so a sponsor can not only help them understand the nearby cities and let them see the area for themselves, but just through a simple conversation they help the spouse expand their understanding of the English language without realizing it," said the Saudi Arabian liaison.

Sponsors can help expand the English of the person they are assigned to by daily or weekly conversation, according to Hammad, and that contact and language-learning skills that a sponsor inadvertently teaches the spouse is priceless.

"The students are so busy that many do not have the time to get a sponsor, but the spouses are another story. They want to learn English better, and go outside and see new places, too. Sponsors help in a way that a teacher can't when helping a person learn English. The spouses are not afraid to ask questions or say that they don't understand something because they are friends with their sponsor and the atmosphere is relaxed," he said.

Anyone is allowed to be a sponsor, whether they are in flight school, a civilian or a military spouse -- there are no restrictions.

"Everyone can be an ambassador to the United States," said Pineiro.

If interested in becoming a sponsor, call 255-2391.

Page last updated Thu February 14th, 2013 at 00:00