‘We really are family’

NSU International students with host mom in her home

Aberdeen woman is host mom to NSU international students

ABERDEEN, S.D. – Diana Osborne’s family is just like any other – except that her children happen to come from all over the world.

Theirs is a “Friendship Family,” part of a program coordinated by the Northern State University Office of International Programs. Through the NSU Friendship Family Program, international students spend time with a local family at least once a month and keep in contact regularly. The program has been going for about 14 years, with 46 students matched to 27 families this year.

Since 2015, Osborne has been host mom to 31 NSU international students. That includes seven currently: Abdullah Asaad, from Saudi Arabia; Seolhui Cha, from South Korea; Matej Cip, from Czech Republic; Jonas Graessle, from Germany; Jiyeong In, from South Korea; Edu Mendoza, from Bolivia; and Vanisa Petriti, from Albania.

They all call her “Mom,” and Osborne fills the role in every way – from bringing them soup when they are sick to giving them a talking to when needed. Osborne also likes to brag about her kids like any proud mom, and can easily rattle off important details like birthdays.

Before she became involved with the Friendship Family program, Osborne said she and her son, Michael, didn’t have any relatives living nearby. But that changed when she became a host parent – something that actually happened by chance.

One snowy Sunday in 2015, Osborne noticed a group of South Korean students walking from Northern’s campus in southern Aberdeen to her church, New Life Fellowship, on the north side of town. So she offered them a ride. It could’ve ended there, but when one of the students mentioned the Friendship Family Program, Osborne decided to look into it.

“I’m a firm believer that God has your life planned out and I believe that there’s two paths always. And you can take the obvious path or sometimes you can take the other path,” Osborne said. “Oftentimes the other path is the better path. In this case, that was the better path.”

‘She Makes You Feel Comfortable’

Petriti has been Osborne’s host daughter the longest – going on three years. When she first applied for the program, she wasn’t sure how it worked or what to expect. But Osborne’s outgoing personality put her at ease right away, and they hit it off.

“She makes you feel comfortable,” Petriti said.

With busy schedules, Osborne’s entire family doesn’t gather all that often, but she meets with the students in small groups or one-on-one all the time. When they are all together, they do things like play games, talk and eat a lot of food.

“We hang out in her house, which is probably our favorite thing,” Cip said. “Because the house became almost like our house.”

They won’t all be together for Christmas, as typically international students take advantage of longer breaks and travel the U.S. But they celebrate many other holidays together, including Easter and Thanksgiving.

Mendoza said as an international student, he was struggling on his own in a new culture until he became part of Osborne’s family.

“Mom was really welcoming,” he said, adding, “I believe that the best part was I finally knew I had a different type of support system. Not only friends, but more like an actual family.”

Families Grateful for Support System

Back home, their families are grateful they’ve found this support system.

“It’s comforting for our families to know that there’s somebody that can take care of us if something happens,” Mendoza said.

Many of their parents are Facebook friends with Osborne, often “liking” the pictures she posts of them and communicating thanks to Google Translate. Osborne said she loves that.

“If my kid was a whole world away, I would be thrilled to have somebody that would act like a mom and take care of Michael, but also I would sure want anything I could see of my child,” she said. “I’d want to see all of those pictures.”

The toughest day for a Friendship Family is at the end of each semester: “Cry Bus Day.” This is what they call the day all international students board a bus from campus to Minneapolis to fly home. Osborne has been through 10 cry bus days so far, and it’s not fun.

“I’m crying because my heart is broken,” she said. “Because I have to say goodbye to these kids that I love.”

But they keep in touch. Osborne still has Facebook groups for every semester’s students who have been part of her family.

Students Also Grow Close

Asaad said the Friendship Family experience has not only connected the students with Osborne, it has also brought them closer to each other as well.

“We show respect to each other,” he said. “We’re all friends, but we treat each other like brothers and sisters. We care about each other.”

To Osborne, that’s one of the best parts of the program.

“We really are family. They really are brothers and sisters. They really are friends,” she said. “They really do love each other. And that is everything I want.”

To learn more about the NSU Friendship Family Program, contact coordinator Heidi Hepola at 605-626-7802 or heidi.hepola@northern.edu, or fill out the online Family Application.

About Northern State University

Northern State University is a regional university that offers outstanding academics and exceptional extracurricular activities at an affordable price on a safe, welcoming campus. Northern State recently announced its Educational Impact Campaign, with a goal of raising $55 million for a new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, new athletic and recreation fields, and an on-campus regional sports complex. Once the campaign is complete, NSU will be the recipient of more than $100 million in privately funded building projects and scholarships within a decade. To learn more, visit NSU Admissions.

Pictured in front is Abdullah Asaad; pictured in back from left are Vanisa Petriti, Jiyeong In, Edu Mendoza, Diana Osborne, Matej Cip, Seolhui Cha and Jonas Graessle.