Saturday, November 17, 2007

Friends International Rolls Out "Visa Course"

Tony Jian, Bournemouth, 21 Oct 2007

A ten week free course for international students is being held by Friends International at town centre every Tuesday evening.

The course offers not only an opportunity for international students to practice English and meet new friends but also an entrance into Christian faith, hence the name visa course.

“We usually have many students from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China and some from South America and Europe”, says international student worker at Friends International Sue Burt.

Julie Lee from South Korea states that she felt depressed before joining the course. “I worked for a company. I had a successful life but I felt helpless and empty.” Ms Lee attended the course in the autumn last year and seven months later she was baptised.

Visa course is only one out of many English learning activities that Friends International launches. Others include Wordsearch, A Meal at Richmond Park, The Mustard Seed Coffee Bar, Compass, iMeet, Wellspring Café, and Friday Evenings at West Cliff, just to name a few.

Friends International is a Christian organization that works with many churches across the UK to welcome international students. It aims to "help students of all faiths, or none, during their stay in the UK" and facilitate cultural exchanges.

The local origins can be traced back to summers in 1960s when there were many language schools in Bournemouth. Local churches found language students had no where to go so they decided to "welcome them, shelter them with hospitality and also give them an opportunity to find out about Christianity," explains Ms Burt.

The churches then cooperated with Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) but no formal organisation was formed to coordinate the issues about international students as yet.

In mid 1980s, the precursor of Friends International, International Student Christian Services (ISCS), was established and continued to work with UCCF, the former responsible for international student affairs while the latter mainly that of British Christian students.

"To reflect the nature of our work and for the ease of memory, ISCS was renamed Friends International in 2002," Ms Burt explains.

Friends International borrows the Hub (see picture below) from Lansdowne Baptist Church as the venue for some of its activities, the visa course being an example.

The course starts at the Hub, 7 Lansdowne Rd. Bournemouth, from 7:45pm to 9:45pm every Tuesday.

(article and picture by Tony Jian)

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