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The friendship between an economics graduate student from Russia and an undergraduate linguistics and philosophy student from Los Angeles was an unlikely one.
Despite having grown up more than 6,000 miles apart and being five years apart in age, Russian native Anastasia Burkovskaya and California native Deborah Mariscal found each other last year through the Global Siblings program at UCLA. Housed in the Dashew Center for International Students & Scholars, the program pairs international students with domestic students in cross-cultural friendships like Mariscal and Burkovskaya’s.
Jennie Weingarten, the Dashew Center’s assistant director of programming, created the Global Siblings program in 2009 to facilitate interaction between domestic and international students, she said.
Mariscal developed an interest in Russian when she was in high school.
She said she envied her friends who spoke Russian because they knew an additional language that was not commonly spoken in Los Angeles.
While working at the Dashew Center, Mariscal discovered the program and ended up finding someone with whom she could share her passion for Russian language and culture.
“Considering the age difference, I probably would’ve never approached (Burkovskaya) in my life,” Mariscal said. “I wouldn’t have known that we have something in common.”
The program, which is free for students, has grown to about 300 participants since its debut year.
Students must undergo an application process and are selected based on the diversity of their experiences and their enthusiasm to participate, Weingarten said.
Global Siblings is meant to help international students, who are often shy when they first come to UCLA, to feel more comfortable initiating relationships with domestic students, said Andrew Bottom, programs assistant at the Dashew Center.
“They’re trying to adjust to a new environment, a new lifestyle, a new culture,” he added. “Their sibling can really help them navigate their new life both at UCLA and in the U.S.”
New students in particular are interested in Global Siblings ““ about 50 percent of international students in the program join during their first year at UCLA, said Bottom.
Burkovskaya, like many other international students, said leaving her friends and family in Russia and coming to America not knowing anyone was a difficult transition.
Mariscal, however, became one of Burkovskaya’s first friends at UCLA.
Last year, Burkovskaya and Mariscal met once a month for different activities, such as hiking, eating and playing tennis.
Once, after a hike to the Hollywood sign, the two friends ate at a local Russian restaurant, where Burkovskaya taught Mariscal about Russian cuisine and culture.
Burkovskaya would teach Mariscal about her country ““ anything from correct pronunciation of Russian to native Russian cuisine.
“She would help me with my Russian homework all the time,” Mariscal said with a laugh. “If anything, I think I benefited from (Global Siblings) more than she did.”
Hera Liao, a second-year business economics student, said she felt overwhelmed by the unfamiliar faces she saw each day going to and from class when she came from China. And although she could speak some English, language was also a barrier for Liao.
“I felt kind of lost at the very beginning,” Liao said. “Especially when I was taking general education classes, there was no one I knew very well.”
Meeting her global siblings, then fourth-year business economics student Alyssa Soo Hoo and second-year business economics student Calvin Chu, however, helped Liao find people to be close to at UCLA, she said.
The three had little trouble connecting on their biweekly food trips to Westwood, Chu said, where they would share advice and commiserate about the difficult economics classes they took.
“We went to Yamato, Noodle World … pretty much every restaurant in Westwood,” Liao said, laughing.
When Soo Hoo graduated in June, the three shared one last farewell dinner together at Westwood’s Bibigo restaurant. Liao said she felt sad that night because they wouldn’t be able to get together as often.
“At that time I really felt that, oh my gosh, (Soo Hoo) is already like a sister to me,” Liao said. “Having global siblings definitely makes you feel like you have someone who is going to be there with you.”
Correction: The application due date for Global Siblings is Sunday, Oct. 14.