In its five years of existence, GFS’ International Students Program has helped to enhance the lives of the participating students and existing members of the GFS community.

by Isabel Mehta

Now in its fifth year, the International Students Program at Germantown Friends School is a highlight of the community. With a total of 13 students, all from China, the ISP works in partnership with the Director of Upper School, Matthew Young, to integrate the students and ensure their global voices and perspectives are valued and heard. While some attend GFS for the last two or three years of their high school careers, others spend all four years on campus.

To ensure the well-being of these students as soon as they step foot in GFS’s front hall, Joy Kushner, Director of ISP, and Penka Slavova, the Coordinator of International Student Life, work together to nurture the students’ social and emotional well-being while also acting as intermediaries between host families, biological families and the student body. ISP also works closely with the college counseling office to facilitate the college application process as smoothly and organically as possible, keeping both host and biological families informed and updated. Additionally, the ISP has a lengthy calendar of events, ranging from birthday celebrations for all 13 of their students to annual potluck picnics, dodgeball tournaments and a Lunar New Year celebration.

What is even more exciting, though, is the growth of the ISP program and the numerous ways in which its students enrich, diversify and engage the GFS community. Beginning with only four students, ISP, in only five years, has grown to have a true presence on the campus. The students’ unique voices and perspectives have a remarkable impact on the native Philadelphians who make up most of the GFS student population.

“What I love about being in the ISP community is that it gave me a sense of belonging from the very first day,” said Nicole, an ISP junior from China. “I feel so grateful to all of the ISP members for their support and generosity in giving me advice and providing me with resources.”

This intercultural exchange could never happen, however, without the generosity of the families who volunteer to open up their homes to welcome these students. While ISP is always thrilled to find families committed to hosting students for their entire GFS career, only a one-year placement is required. The enthusiasm and passion of these host families to provide a safe, nurturing environment for the students is invaluable to the school. The host families themselves also benefit greatly from the experience.

“We were Home Stay parents for two years,” said Teri Gemberling-Johnson, host mother to Anthony. “We enjoyed many rich conversations around the dinner table, and our family shared many wonderful musical moments at home with Anthony, at school and in Philadelphia concert halls. We were all enriched by the cross-cultural experience we shared together.”

Brandon Jones, host father to Gloria, notes, “Hosting Gloria was a wonderful and rewarding experience for our family. Having two younger children at home, Gloria quickly became a big sister our children grew to love. We thoroughly enjoyed our time as a Home Stay Family for the International Student Program.”

The intellectual and global awareness that these international students bring to the GFS community is enlightening to all. The collaborative community created between ISP, the host families and the GFS faculty, staff and student body provides a wonderful and nurturing environment for international students at GFS to integrate, thrive and achieve at their highest potential.

“Having this program provides us with a unique lens through which we have the opportunity to reassess our values, judgements and assumptions,” Slavova added.

If you are interested in finding out more about the ISP and hosting an international student for the 2019-20 school year, please contact Penka Slavova at 215-485-1444 or