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When Farrukh Nazir buys vegetables at home in Pakistan, he buys them one at a time.

In Missoula, where he is studying curriculum instruction as part of his master's degree in education, grocery shopping is different.

Here, he can buy veggies in a bundle.

Here, a lot is different, and Nazir, a University of Montana student, wants to immerse himself in his new community.

"I want to learn about the culture and the families. The peoples of Missoula are really friendly. We observed it yesterday," Nazir said.

The Missoula International Friendship Program stands ready to help him learn more about life in the U.S.

On Monday, the Friendship Program hosted a spaghetti dinner for some 100 incoming international students, and board president Chris Kilzer said the program is looking for more local people to serve as friends. (See info box.)

Through the students, its members also learn about the cultures of Pakistan, Australia, Ireland, Brazil, China, Tajikistan and other countries.

"We would like to get to know you better and learn about your country," Kilzer told the group.

***

In Missoula, the Friendship Program has been around an estimated 25 years. Effie Koehn, director of Foreign Students and Scholar Services at UM, said it has been a model other university communities have duplicated.

The students live on campus, and their friends don't serve as resident hosts, Kilzer said. Rather, they might make them dinner, take them shopping and introduce them to other facets of family life in Missoula.

"All we ask is that you offer friendship and a little of your time in return," Kilzer said to the students.

Adair Kanter, a Friendship Program board member, said she has shared many delicious meals with her international friends, some she's cooked and others they've cooked for her.

A Brazilian student once made her a tasty chicken dish, and he also figured out how to use her citrus squeezer as a potato masher of sorts. One time, Kanter and a group of students cooked up tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches together.

"I get them off campus," Kanter said.

***

Efren Duarte of Mexico used to be formally connected with the program, and he'd like to join again.

Duarte, a student in international business, said the value is in having experiences that are rooted in Montana, but not necessarily easy to discover. The friends show the way.

"They show you places that, otherwise, you would not see," Duarte said.

He likes to camp, fish and hike, and he's been introduced to places of spectacular beauty. "The scenery here is probably world-class," he said.

Duarte has taken friends boating on Seeley Lake and shooting at the target range, the latter a rare experience for many students from overseas.

"Random road trips. That's what it's about," he said.

The students offer insight to the locals, too.

Nazir, one of 27 students selected as a USAID exchange visitor out of 3,500 applicants, said Missoula reminds him of his home in Pakistan in District Mansehra, with its trees, mountains and grasses.

The real Pakistan is a diverse country, he said: "The people are really good and hospitable people."

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University of Montana, higher education