International Friendship Program

The International Friendship Program (IFP) is a cross-cultural exchange program that connects members of the St. Olaf, Northfield, and local communities with international students. The program offers participants the opportunity to build friendships across cultures, across generations, and across communities.

St. Olaf College enrolls over 300 international students from more than 90 nations. The option to participate in the International Friendship Program is extended to new first-year international students, as well as international students who are returning to campus for their second year.

The program gives international students an opportunity to meet people in the U.S., to form a connection with the local community, and to introduce their country and culture to people who live in Minnesota. Community members befriend students during their transition to our campus, our local community, and our country. Both hosts and students learn about different cultures and perspectives through mutual discussion and exchange. Your life and the lives of our students are enriched as a result of your participation. 

We welcome families and individuals who range in lifestyle and stage of life. The group of community members is very diverse, ranging from recent college graduates, families with young children or teenage children, to retired individuals and couples. The one thing they have in common is an interest in the world and in learning about other cultures, and a willingness to share a bit of their own lives with someone from another part of the world. The International Friendship Program brings students together with local families/friends, however there is no housing or financial obligation expected of the community partners. 

We ask community members to commitment to two students for one academic year, as students often feel more comfortable in pairs. The time commitment does not need to be great, and the reward can be tremendous! The amount of time spent together varies, depending on the schedules of all participants, however most get together about once a month.

Meeting for coffee, celebrating holidays, exploring Minnesota, and partaking in special events on-campus are just some of the activities you can enjoy. There are several group activities planned throughout the year, including our welcome reception in September, a winter activity in January, an international potluck in April, and various optional cultural activities throughout the year.

If you are interested in participating in the International Friendship Program, please complete a Community Member interest form or the International Student interest form.



How It Works

-Interested community members and international students submit applications by the end of August. 

-Community members and international students are matched early September.  

-Community members receive information about their students by email before September 15th, and students receive information upon arrival to campus.

-In late September, the Taylor Center offers a brief orientation and welcome reception for students and community members.

-We encourage students and community members to initiate contact and extend invitations to get together, at your convenience. 

The Taylor Center team is here to offer fresh ideas about connecting with your students, or an experienced ear if you run into struggles or questions about your relationship. For more information, contact Megan Carmès, Assistant Director for International Student Engagement at 507-786-3073 or email

What the Taylor Center Expects From Community Members

-Attend the September orientation meet-and-greet activity.

-The primary goal is friendship. Do your best to get to know the students, help them adjust to life at St. Olaf, and share experiences across cultures and generations.

-We hope your relationship will last throughout the year. Some friendships last longer — but that’s a perk, not an expectation.

-Initiate at least two or three activities per semester (some do more, some do less). Personal contact is best — but phone, email, and Facebook are also great ways to stay in touch.

-Don’t wait for the student to reach out — community members often need to initiate, at least in the early stages.

-Read a bit about the countries your students call home. CultureGrams offer an excellent overview to get you started. 

-Community members are asked to respect a student’s religious and cultural identities, not enforcing their own and being mindful of activities that may make a student uncomfortable.

-The Taylor Center loves hearing about your adventures. Send us stories or photos!

-We are always looking for new community partners; share this opportunity with your friends.

-Remember, if your student has a question or concern, they can ask their international student counselor (ISC), residence life coordinator (JCs, RAs, or ACs), or the Taylor Center for help.

-Some students, or their parents, may have higher expectations of your role — let us know if you need help with this.

-If you are ever concerned about your student’s physical or emotional well-being, please contact Megan Carmès, Assistant Director for International Student Engagement at 507-786-3073 or email


What is not expected of Community Members:

-Unlike many programs, the International Friendship Program does not involve a home stay. Although community members may decide to house students during breaks, there is no expectation to do so. 

-Community members are not expected to help students with problems such as financial needs or difficulties, legal matters, any kind of immigration matters, or serious medical or personal problems.

What Community Members Can Expect from the Taylor Center

-We’ll introduce you to the international students.

-We will host an orientation and opening reception for community members and students.

-We’ll invite you to several special events such as: Homecoming/Family Weekend events in October, winter social in January, potluck in April, International Student Organization’s (ISO) International Night in March, and more. 

-We’ll email you periodically; please update us if your email address changes. 

-In May, we reach out to ask about your experience, and we invite you to consider hosting new students the following August.

What Community Member and Students Should Expect from Each Other

-Initiate two or three activities per semester (some do more, some do less). Personal contact is best — but phone, email, and Facebook are also great ways to stay in touch.

-It is ok to ask for help — but it isn’t ok to make assumptions about ability, availability, or willingness to offer help.

-Enjoy your time together — and do your best to invite and include each other in activities that you enjoy.

-Be open minded. Ask questions. 

-Both students and hosts are encouraged to extend invitations to get together on and/or off campus. The best relationships are mutual and interactive.

-We’re all busy! Students and community members live busy lives. If an invitation won’t work or isn’t appealing, it’s ok to say no!

-Be polite. Reply to emails, voicemails, etc. Be on time. Plan ahead. Communicate when plans change.


For more information or to apply to this program, click the appropriate box below.