Religion at Iowa State: Bridges International


The national logo for Bridges International, a Christian organization created to benefit international students. 

Claire Hoppe

Word of mouth is what many smaller on-campus organizations rely on to grow their community, but in an everchanging and fast-paced world, word of mouth can only go so far. This is a challenge that Bridges International, an interdenominational Christian organization geared toward international students at Iowa State, faces.

Bridges International is a national organization with over 50 branches planted at different colleges across the country that, according to Ryan Jensen, a national adviser and local campus director for Bridges International, aims to lift up and serve international students practically while also being a spiritual resource.

While many Americans may think Bridges International doesn’t apply to them, Jensen said that Americans play a large part in the organization.

“We really encourage Americans to be partners with us and to be a part of Bridges International because… it’s just such a beautiful experience… for Americans to be connecting and getting to know and spending time with internationals [students],” Jensen said.

According to Fengshuo Peng, an international graduate student at Iowa State studying information systems and business analytics, Bridges International has played an important part in his Iowa State journey. This club includes international students, domestic students and community volunteers.

According to Peng, many American students don’t consider how difficult it is for international students to make friends, let alone friends that they feel comfortable, respected and safe around. However, Peng said Bridges International has helped international students get connected with not only their spirituality, but also with a community of other students, both from the U.S. and beyond.

“You feel like someone here actually cares about you,” Peng said.

Jensen echoed Peng’s feelings.

“The reality is that being an international student is just really challenging when English isn’t your native language… If you’re in a different place, just like anyone that’s moving to a new town and you feel like an outsider, imagine all those other layers [international students experience],” Jensen said. “We need Americans that really… want to be good friends to international community so they can learn.”

According to Peng, there are many opportunities through Bridges International for students to become involved with the international community. One of these opportunities is the weekly “Coffee, Tea and English” meetings. These meetings, which happen at 4: 30 p.m. every Friday in the Gerdin Business Building lobby, offer international students time to practice their English while building friendships in a safe environment and community of other students.

Another opportunity to get involved with Bridges International comes in the form of hosting meals for international students in American homes.

“Family group is just an opportunity for international students to come into an American home, enjoy a meal together and this is kind of where the spiritual resources [come in],” Jensen said. “We have students who just want to learn more about the Bible.”

Jensen said that family group occurs from 6:30 to 9 p.m. every other Saturday. He also mentioned that all Bridges International organizations from across the country will be at the Vision Conference in Baltimore in the end of December and beginning of January 2022. At the conference, students will get the opportunity to meet new people, form new friendships and learn about the Bible together.

Jensen also said how his main goal in being a part of Bridges International is to be a blessing to international students.

“The thing that my wife and I really enjoy about working with international students is it puts us in a place to be learners of culture, learners of people, so that we can respect and care for our neighbors… honoring your neighbors, loving your neighbor,” Jensen said.

More information about Bridges International can be found on their Iowa State student organization page, as well as their national website and their Facebook page.