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Riverside, Calif. (Dec. 4, 2014) -- Going to college is a big adjustment for anyone. Going to college in a foreign country makes the adjustment even bigger. California Baptist University has a program in place to help international students feel at home and connected.

The American Family Program, operated by the International Center, gives international students a family here in Riverside to serve as a support system far from home, said Marie King, a graduate assistant at the International Center. Students from Rwanda and students enrolled in the Intensive English Program are required to be in the family program, but all international students are welcome to be part of it, King said.

"It can be a hard transition being that far away, especially this time of year, too, when everyone else has plans and you're not going home till the summer," King said. "We just kind of seek to make that connection and help them get a lasting connection to people in Riverside."

She finds families from the staff at CBU and local churches. Each student and family fills out a profile and then are matched. The commitment for families and students is for at least the academic year, with the potential of being longer, King said. Families have the students over for the holidays and often get together throughout the school year for other activities. Both sides are expected to communicate weekly.

Ken Sanford, student teacher supervisor, and his wife, Denise, started as a host family last year for two Chinese students and are continuing this year with those students. Sanford has been to China through participation in International Service Projects for five years in a row, and he has gotten to know international students at CBU. Sanford and his wife have had the students over for meals, gone out for dinner and visited an amusement park. They touch base with each other almost every day.

"Here you are across the seas, thousands of miles away from home," he said. "It gives them that other person that can feel like family to them, that they can turn to. This is the more personable, family touch."

Kristina Tchernyshev is a sophomore from Israel majoring in international studies. She came to CBU because of its swim program. Tchernyshev was matched with a family last year and has spent time with them, including dinners at their home.

"They were really supporting. They welcomed me to their house, to their family. Last year was my first Christmas with them and it was so fun," she said.  "I got a chance to be part of the family, because my family's not here."

It's essential for international students to feel supported while far away from home, King said. The International Center also offers the Intensive English Program, helps run International Chapel and holds events for international students, such as a Disneyland trip and International Celebration Week, in hopes that they will connect with other students.

"I think it just helps form deeper connections and enhances their education experience," she said of the family program. "I think it's a really cool way to impact the nations here at home. You don't have to get on a plane to make a difference. That's one thing I really love about this program."