Friendship isn't foreign to them
> couple honored for years of work with international visitors <
By Patty Machelor
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/218228
Rick and Linda Hanson made a pact shortly after they married: They would travel outside the U.S. at least once every year.
Now, 37 years later, the Southeast Side residents have not only done that, they've also helped bring the rest of the world to Tucson as volunteers with the University of Arizona's International Friends.
International Friends links overseas students attending the UA with Tucson residents. The volunteers don't house the students but instead help them acclimate to life in Tucson.
"There's idealism in what we do, but, on a practical level, we're welcoming friends," said Linda.
After nearly eight years with this program, the Hansons were recently awarded the International Volunteer of the Year Award by the Association of International Educators. Their award was a first for Arizona in a region that includes eight Western states.
Many students befriended by Rick and Linda, both 60, said the award is well deserved.
Hassan Souleyman, a graduate student from the Republic of Chad in West Africa, said meeting Rick and Linda has been critical to his experience.
"They have introduced me and later my other three Fulbright friends, my wife and children to pretty much every cultural event," said Souleyman, 50, who has been in Tucson since 2002 and is working on earning his doctorate in second-language acquisition and teaching.
"We have started to understand and appreciate American football, baseball, the (Winterhaven) lights festival, the different museums and countless others."
Bojosi Gamontle said the Hansons have been "tremendously helpful" during her 16 months in Tucson. Gamontle, 32, is from Botswana. She is here studying for a master's degree in public health.
"I have seen some historic places while here and met some wonderful people through Linda and Rick," she said. "Linda is a great cook, and she has invited us, all their international friends, to their house for meals, and we have a great time every single time."
Katia Mello Vieira, 42, is from Brazil and has been here four years working on a doctorate in rhetoric, composition and teaching English.
One of her favorite memories is from her first month here, when she was sad not to have anything special planned for her birthday. "Rick and Linda showed up and took me for lunch, and I spent a great day," she said.
On one Mother's Day, Vieira said she and another exchange student cooked for Linda.
"We really think of her as a mentor and mother figure in Tucson. She is determined, she knows the struggles international graduate students go through, such as dealing with cultural differences, besides the stresses of your field of work," she said.
In January, 50 new international students will be arriving at the UA, Rick said, and International Friends' volunteers need to be found for each one.
"It's an easy way to experience the world," he said. "You're not only learning about another culture through sharing your country, but you're also learning more about your own culture by seeing it through someone else's eyes."
The Hansons, who live in the Civano neighborhood, have also volunteered abroad, including a trip to Paraguay to help with community development.
This past summer, they spent three weeks in Zambia where they helped with a building project for a new elementary school.
A love of travel and foreign cultures started early for Linda, who grew up on a Minnesota farm where she developed a passion for reading and, subsequently, a vivid imagination.
"I spent a lot of time reading and many times about children from other countries, and I used to imagine that they were coming to visit and I'd show them around the farm," she said.
A trip to the United Nations when she was a high school junior intensified her passion.
Linda and Rick met at the University of Minnesota in the early 1970s. So far, their trips have taken them to every continent except Antarctica, and Rick said that's one of the next places he'd like to visit.
● Contact reporter Patty Machelor at 235-0308 or firstname.lastname@example.org.