PLATTSBURGH - Those wanting to learn about cultures from far away places don't have to travel great distances thanks to a program at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.
Partners In Cross-Cultural Learning, sponsored by the university's International Student Service Office, is a program that matches newly arriving international students with volunteers from the community.
Program coordinator Michelle St. Onge, Peru, explained the program provides students with "an authentic experience of life in the United States," while local residents are given the opportunity "to glimpse into different cultures through interaction with the students."
"It gives people here an opportunity to relate to people from different cultures," said St. Onge, "and it allows students to become more integrated into American culture, which is slightly different off campus than it is on campus."
Through "casual, social exchange," international students establish a "friendly and supportive link" to the community, said St. Onge. Each semester, students are matched with community residents and meet about once a month for informal activities such as family dinners, trips to the movies or casual outings.
The PICL program doesn't require the international students to be housed by PICL community volunteers as they live on campus, noted St. Onge. However, community volunteers - who go through a required application process - are encouraged to welcome students into their homes to get an impression of day-to-day life in an American family.
"It gives them a chance to see the inside of an American home and see how individuals in an American family relate to one another," said St. Onge. "Even simple things like where you put your dishes or what your restrooms look like are things that are very different that we can take for granted."
The experience is one that educates students and community volunteers while having fun at the same time, said St. Onge.
"It's getting to experience your own culture through someone else's eyes," she said. "And, it's a way to share your own experiences, your life and the things you enjoy doing with someone else."
"It's all about fun," she added.
PICL also coordinates various social activities throughout the semester such as bowling outings and sledding parties. Currently, there are more than 50 volunteer and international student partnerships through the PICL program.
"We'd like more community partners to participate because, right now, we only have enough to get the new incoming students paired up," said St. Onge, who noted the program sometimes struggles with community interest. "Sometimes we get returning students who would like to have a new partner and we'd like to have enough partners to rematch them. We're always looking for more volunteers."
This Saturday, Aug. 28, an informational meeting about the PICL program will be held in the auditorium of the Plattsburgh Public Library, 19 Oak St. The meeting will begin at 4 p.m. Applications to become a PICL community volunteer will be made available during the meeting and will continue to be accepted through Friday, Sept. 10.
For more information, contact St. Onge at 564-3270 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Details about the program, including an on-line community volunteer application may also be found at www.plattsburgh.edu/admissions/international/picl.php.