Many Connections. One U.

Maryville invites alumni, friends to become a Community Connections family

on January 15, 2013 by Janet Edwards

A Maryville exchange student from Japan, Hitomi Yamazaki, says a friendship with an area family has helped her feel comfortable and learn more about the region. Maryville is working to establish similar relationships between other families and current students.

Maryville’s Center for Global Education invites alumni and friends of the University to join Community Connections, a new program that will match St. Louis-area  families with out-of-state and international students studying at Maryville.

The program is aimed at connecting Maryville students who are away from home to an off-campus family, who would invite the students to spend some time with them. Alumni and friends  of Maryville will have a chance to stay connected with the University, and to learn more about a current student.

A highlight of the Community Connections program is the opportunity for students to experience a home-cooked meal in their sponsor family’s home. Assistant Director of the Center for Global Education Deborah Knaust said, “Nothing can quite match the value of good food and conversation as remedies for homesickness, and positive social connections help students to adapt to and succeed in the college environment. The Community Connections program will allow sponsor families to become involved with Maryville in a fun and personal way.”

Sponsor families will help students connect with their new city and feel comfortable here, even while they are away from home. They’ll have a chance to build meaningful relationships and learn about the student’s culture, traditions and customs. “We will try to match sponsor families with students who have similar interests to your family members,” Knaust explained.

Deborah Knaust

To participate, sponsor families will be expected to attend Community Connections sessions in September 2013 and in February 2014. They should remain respectful of the culture, religion and political beliefs of the student. They’ll be asked to maintain contact with their student at least once a month; to meet with their student at least twice a semester; to provide transportation, if needed, for students.  “Most importantly, sponsor families should be willing to show our students that they care,” Knaust explained.

She said students want social connections and interaction from the program. Both international and out-of-state students want opportunities to learn about St. Louis culture and traditions. The goal is that the program will provide them with a sense of security and support, and an advocate—a link to someone who is willing to look out for the student’s best interests.

A current exchange student from Japan, 20-year-old Hitomi Yamazaki, has formed a relationship with an area resident, Margaret Walker, and her family through a group called International Students Inc. She attends religious service with the family, has lunch and has seen some of the sights in the region with them. Yamazaki, a student at Toyo University, said, “When people come to the United States by themselves, they’re nervous. To have another family encourage us, it’s a very good experience.” She said one of the daughters in the Walker family is studying Japanese, so she helps her practice her conversational skills in that language, while also speaking English with the family. She said she believes other students will benefit from a similar program at Maryville.

To become a sponsor family, complete the online application form at: Those with questions or seeking more information may contact Deborah Knaust at or 314.529.6843.



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