For Families

What is my role in the Friendship Family program?

Your role is to develop a relationship with your student(s), and to help them adjust and learn about U.S. society and culture through discussions and exposure to new people, places and ideas. You can do this by inviting them to your home or events in the community, attending St. Olaf events together, remembering them on their birthdays, etc.

How long is my commitment as a family in this program?
We ask for a commitment of one academic year. At the end of the first year, families and students are asked if they wish to continue their involvement. In most cases, students and families both find that they truly enjoy the friendship that has formed, and choose to continue.

How often should I contact my student, and what’s the best way to do this?
There are no ‘rules’ for how often you should contact your student. On an average, families and students get together several times a year, although this varies widely. Families who work at St. Olaf or who live very close to campus may see their students more often simply because the students find it easy to just ‘pop in’ for a visit.

Families should initiate contact with the students through emails, phone calls, or notes in the student’s mailbox. Students are often reluctant to initiate a call or an idea for a get-together, although as they get to know you better, this may change. Be sure to ask students what the best way is to reach them.

You may wish to encourage your student to bring his/her friends along to your get-togethers. They may feel more comfortable with their friends there, and you may get to meet other international students as well.

Make a special effort to get together often at the start of the new school year when students are new to Northfield and likely missing their own families. Later in the year, don’t be disappointed if students must limit their time with you or decline an invitation in favor of their studies. Students are usually quite busy with their course work in the last few weeks of the semester.

Am I responsible for transportation?
The short answer is ‘yes’. Most students, and almost all first-year students, are without cars and are unfamiliar with Northfield, and so will need to rely on you for transportation to your home or outings. If you are unable to pick a student up for an event, please provide clear and complete instructions on how to find you and what transportation is available.

Am I expected to share my home with a student during holidays?
You are under no obligation to provide accommodations.  You may wish to invite the student to spend part or all of their holiday break with you, and this can be a very nice way to help cement your relationship and get to know each other better.  However, this is entirely up to you.

What can I do with my student?
– St. Olaf events (dance and theater performances, sports events, cultural evenings, etc.)
– Art galleries and museums
– Music, dance, theater, films
– Historic sites (Fort Snelling, Landmark Center, Minnesota History Center, etc.)
– Sports events
– Minnesota or Como Zoo, Planetarium, Science Museum, Bell Museum, Landscape Arboretum, etc.
– Valley Fair, Minnesota State Fair, Winter Carnival
– Fishing, skiing, snowmobiling, bowling, bicycling, skating, etc.
– Family dinners, holiday activities, family birthday parties
– Shopping
– Cooking……………………and much, much more

Two important things to keep in mind:

  1. Some students have dietary restrictions; be sure to clarify this in advance to avoid an uncomfortable situation.
  2. Some families invite students to attend religious services with them.  If you do, please make sure that the student knows that it’s okay to decline this invitation if they’re not comfortable with it. Please remember that it is crucial to respect students’ own religious beliefs.

What should a Friendship Family NOT feel responsible for?
You are not expected to help your Friendship student deal with difficulties they may have with finances, health, emotional or adjustment issues, academic matters, immigration and other governmental obligations or serious family problems. Certainly, your sympathy and encouragement during difficult times can be of great help to the student, but they should be encouraged to contact the Assistant Director of Multicultural Affairs and International Student Life, Emiko Oonk, at to discuss any serious problems that arise.

What if problems arise or the relationship doesn’t work out?
First and foremost, patience is the key. Any relationship takes time to develop. Your student may feel like a member of your family from the very beginning, or he/she may be reserved and uncomfortable at first, and need more time to get to know you. Give it some time, and in most cases the relationship will just get better and better. In some cases the student may decide to focus on their student friendships instead and they might not reply to your emails. It can also be that you are no longer able to actively participate in the program. If so, please inform Lori and she can locate another family.

Who do I contact with questions or concerns?
Please contact Lori Middeldorp, Friendship Family Coordinator, at