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Friendship Family program connects international students with American hosts


PITTSBURG, Kan. — Angela Martino-Lewis may have grown up and lived in Pittsburg her entire life, but she’s now global: she attends campus cultural events, has served as a host to many international students, and since 2018 has participated in Pitt State’s Friendship Family program. 

Her involvement has radically changed her life, and the two-time Pitt State graduate is encouraging others in the area to get involved. 

“I’ve had students from Brazil, France, South Korea, Taiwan, France, China, and we’ve become good friends,” she said. “They bring joy to my life and it’s always hard to say goodbye!” 

Students are matched with community volunteers by the International Friends of Pittsburg, a community organization, with the goal of helping them transition to life in Pittsburg. The group is looking for Friendship Families for the 2023-24 school year. 

In the years that Lewis has been active, students have shared their culture with her, and she’s shared hers with them, taking them to American line dances, local concerts, a thrift shop, and to play pool and eat pizza.  

They have carved pumpkins at Halloween, experienced Thanksgiving dinner, have gone to see Santa at Meadowbrook Mall at Christmas, and created scavenger hunts across campus on Easter. 

In between, they have shared slices of American daily life, like baking cookies — something the Korean students were excited about, because many Koreans don’t have ovens. 

Often along for the fun is fellow teacher and friend Lynette Wescott.

The more they visited, the more at ease they were in asking questions about cultural differences and stereotypes. 

Students like Cherin Kang, an English and business major from South Korea, said it made a big difference in the Pitt State experience. 

“When we first came to America, everything was new and unfamiliar. Through Friendship Families, we learned new things and a new culture. They are important to international students. It was like having an ‘American mother’ who could help us adjust,” Kang said. 

Lewis earned her bachelor’s in Education in 1994 and her master’s in Education in 2002, and for 27 years has taught at Pittsburg Community Middle School, where she’s strived to help her students become more well-rounded.  

This year, she was recognized for her efforts with the Pitt State international program with the Global Gorilla Friendship Award. 

For more information, contact Jorge León at [email protected] or Cynthia Pfannenstiel at [email protected].