Take-a-Friend-Home Program: From Republic, MO to Timor Leste
Photos courtesy of Leticia Dos Santos Ferreira
Introduced in the summer of 2006, the Take-a-Friend Home Program (TAFH) is an innovative global outreach and cultural immersion program through the Churchill Institute for Global Engagement at Westminster College.
With TAFH, international students select a friend with whom they would like to travel and share their family experience. Likewise, American students may select an international friend with whom they might like to share their American family experience over a holiday such as Thanksgiving or Winter break. The College pays for the round-trip airfare for the international flight for each “team” of students. Participating students agree to host their friends and share their experiences with the Westminster community upon their return.
Leticia Dos Santos Ferreira ’19 and Lydia Creech ’19 (KKΓ) teamed up this summer and traveled together to Leticia’s hometown of Dili, Timor Leste. Later this year, Leticia will accompany Lydia to Texas to celebrate Thanksgiving with Lydia’s extended family. Below, learn about their experience in Timor Leste and view Leticia’s photos from the trip.
How did you first become interested in the Take a Friend Home Program?
Lydia: I first heard about the program on my very first visit to Westminster, before I was even a student. It was part of an activity fair that I attended in order to learn a little bit more about the college. After deciding that I wanted to attend Westminster, I went to the Take a Friend Home presentations throughout my freshman and the beginning of my sophomore year. I was lucky to have Leticia as my roommate my freshman year and we got along really well.
Leticia: The Take-a-Friend-Home Program provides an outstanding, life-changing experience that I have anticipated since the beginning of the semester. I have seen both my international and domestic friends having the best time of their lives, experiencing the cultures of the families in the society that each of them represents. By the end of my first semester in college, I had a great experience spending my Christmas break at Lydia’s house. As an international student who initially struggled in adapting to the culture, stereotypes, and some social issues of the country, Lydia has helped me past the spectrum of perspectives and has made me so comfortable in this new society. This has been a great life-changing experience that helps me to recuperate from being self-conscious in American society. We have interest in each other’s culture: the food, the languages, the culture, celebration, and so on. I couldn’t think of anything better than taking her home. Thus, TAFH is an exciting opportunity to share with her.
What was it like meeting each other’s families?
Lydia: I absolutely loved meeting Leticia’s family. While it was difficult not being able to really communicate with them due to the language barrier, it was still amazing to live with her for three weeks and experience what she did growing up. He family really reminded me a lot of my family. It was also interesting that every time we left her house to go on an outing or just to walk around for a bit, it never failed that I met a new person that was a part of her family in some way. It is a very tight-knit community, and it seems like everyone knows everyone.
What surprised you most about your experience?
Lydia: The closeness of everyone surprised me most about my experience. I knew and understood that Timor Leste is a small country and that there was going to be a chance of seeing the same people a lot, but I really loved that everyone was so kind and welcoming, whether you were a part of the family or not. Being able to just leave the house and be with Leticia and have her recognize people she knew was a very cool experience.
What are your plans for the U.S. leg of your TAFH travels?
Lydia: Leticia came to my home over Christmas break our freshman year, so I got to show her how my family celebrates Christmas whenever we are in Missouri. Both of our families are religious, so I took her to my church for our services. She celebrated with us on Christmas day with my entire family. We both have a lot of siblings, and I have four young nieces and nephews that she got to meet and spend time with as well. It was just a time spent with a lot of my family. We also went to an amusement park (Silver Dollar City) where Leticia got to ride roller coasters for the first time. This year, I will be taking her with me to Texas to celebrate Thanksgiving. This will hopefully be a good experience for her since she has never been to Texas and she has also not spent time with an American family during this time of the year.
What activities or experiences did you most enjoy together in Timor Leste?
Lydia: We took a 7-hour road trip to the eastern part of the island with her sister, cousin, and mom. We visited her mom’s side of the family, and I could visit some of the grave sites of her family members. We went to the beach a few separate times, and I met a lot of new people there just due to the fact that I was the only white person for miles around. I took a lot of random pictures with people! We explored the entire capital city. We went into the jungle together, ate coconut straight from the tree, showered from a hose, squatted on the ground to use the bathroom, didn’t have any air-conditioning, walked to the top of the “Jesus Criste” statue at one of the beaches, attended a social gathering late at night. I enjoyed my entire experience in Timor Leste, and I look forward to the day I go back and get to visit her once again. Hopefully, by then I will have learned more of the language (Tetum).
What do you think is the most important thing you learned through this experience?
Lydia: Just because a group of people lives somewhere else in the world doesn’t mean that they are that different from you. Leticia and I talked a lot about the differences of the way she grew up and the way I grew up. People are very strong and very adaptable. While she was born in a poorer country than I was, she still grew up in a similar way. There were many things that I did and tried that could be out of my comfort zone, but if I had grown up doing those things, I do not think that it would or should be out of the ordinary for a young person like me to be familiar with using a bush as a bathroom, or driving on roads filled with potholes, or washing all your clothes by hand, or not having to air conditioning at all. I think that this helped me to grow as a person, and I would hope that anyone would be willing to try these things too.
What do you want people to know about Timor Leste?
Lydia: The people of Timor Leste are truly amazing. They are kind, gentle-hearted, strong, independent, resilient, inspiring, courageous and simply a joy to be around. They have so much to offer to the world, and they care so deeply for their country and families. I was truly blessed to be able to go on this trip, and I would encourage anyone to visit the beautiful country of Timor Leste and to really get to know the people and culture.
What do you want people to know about the Take-a-Friend-Home Program?
Leticia: TAFH is a program that gives us the ability to explore each other’s cultures and put them into our own perspectives. TAFH program shows no barriers to any color or culture. Indeed, it enables us to share our cultural differences with our surrounding friends and helps us understand the beauty of cultural exchange.
Lydia: The Take a Friend Home program was and is an amazing opportunity to be able to travel somewhere you may have never been able to go. I hadn’t even heard of Timor Leste, let alone thought to visit there someday, but the Take a Friend Home program enabled me to visit the family of my dear friend, and without it, I would have never been able to thank them for the way that they raised Leticia to be. She is an inspiration to me and I look up to her in many ways.
Below are photos that Leticia has shared of Lydia’s visit to Timor Leste.
Learn more about TAFH here.