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PLATTSBURGH - Those wanting to learn about cultures from far away places don't have to travel great distances thanks to a program at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.

Partners In Cross-Cultural Learning, sponsored by the university's International Student Service Office, is a program that matches newly arriving international students with volunteers from the community.

Program coordinator Michelle St. Onge, Peru, explained the program provides students with "an authentic experience of life in the United States," while local residents are given the opportunity "to glimpse into different cultures through interaction with the students."

"It gives people here an opportunity to relate to people from different cultures," said St. Onge, "and it allows students to become more integrated into American culture, which is slightly different off campus than it is on campus."

Through "casual, social exchange," international students establish a "friendly and supportive link" to the community, said St. Onge. Each semester, students are matched with community residents and meet about once a month for informal activities such as family dinners, trips to the movies or casual outings.

The PICL program doesn't require the international students to be housed by PICL community volunteers as they live on campus, noted St. Onge. However, community volunteers - who go through a required application process - are encouraged to welcome students into their homes to get an impression of day-to-day life in an American family.

"It gives them a chance to see the inside of an American home and see how individuals in an American family relate to one another," said St. Onge. "Even simple things like where you put your dishes or what your restrooms look like are things that are very different that we can take for granted."

The experience is one that educates students and community volunteers while having fun at the same time, said St. Onge.

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