We recently caught up with Sarah, one of our most active and passionate participants, to learn from her what being a young volunteer with IFI looks like and why it’s important to her. We love her challenge to all volunteers to think rightly about our relationships with international friends and to learn from them as much as they learn from us.
When did you first hear about IFI?
Sarah: I honestly don’t know. I feel like I’ve known about it forever! I think I heard about it at church as a middle school student. They always had a week where we got to learn about other cultures and someone from IFI came to speak. It was always my favorite week!
What convinced you to get involved?
Sarah: I just naturally gravitate to people who are different from me. I would always eat with the Nepali kids at school or go talk to the kid in the wheelchair. My first friend was Egyptian. IFI is the first place where I really feel at home. These are my people.
What would you say to college students and other young people about volunteering with IFI?
Sarah: I’ve made the best friends I’ve ever had with internationals. I think sometimes people overthink it. Just be yourself. International students are people just like you. What many people don’t realize is that most international students don’t have American friends. Many of them come from cultures where people really rely on each other but they find that people in the US are often very private. I want to show them that not all Americans are this way. A lot of students work so hard when they are here. As friends, we can give them something fun to look forward to.
What do you think is cool about being the same age as students?
Sarah: I think it’s cool to have friends of all ages. Some IFI volunteers act more as mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, or grandparents to students, but to me, my international friends are literally just my friends. You need both: the older friends and the ones the same age as you.
What is the difference between a volunteer and a friend?
Sarah: A friend involves people in their everyday lives, not just for IFI events, because you want to spend time with them. Because that’s what friends do. It’s not about having things super planned out. Be open. I don’t try to push my beliefs onto them. I just want to be their friend. I think it becomes more volunteer than friend when you start thinking about international students as needing our help and how we are here to serve them. A friendship is MUTUAL. We learn so much from them too!
What is the most important piece of advice you would give a new young volunteer?
Sarah: Take time to actively listen everyday. God will speak. Rest. Make sure you’re in step with him. People are very lonely and you can’t fill all their needs. It’s a team effort. When you end, He begins.