Jean Libbey Middle of Everywhere Fund supports initiatives that makes Grinnell feel like ‘home’ for students from around the world


GRINNELL, Iowa — Grinnell College recently received a gift from Liyan Chen ’12 and her husband Brian Solomon, which was made in honor of Grinnell resident Jean Libbey, an enthusiastic host of international students. The gift was established to honor the important role that Libbey played in supporting Chen and many other international students throughout their enrollment at Grinnell.

A native of Guangzhou China, Chen majored in history at Grinnell and graduated in 2012. She went on to earn a master’s degree in business journalism from New York University. After working for several years as a reporter and data editor for Forbes, she spent more than six years as an international corporate affairs leader with Alibaba Group. She is currently Director, Head of External Communications at Flexport, a global logistics technology company.

“Like many international students, I had to navigate the challenges of living in a completely new environment. Jean went above and beyond to help me connect with the community, and her warmth and care made Grinnell feel like home. I hope this new fund will honor Jean’s memory by paying forward her kindness and supporting programs that enrich international student experiences and strengthen their ties to the local community,” says Chen.

Libbey hosted several international students over the years and became especially close to Chen. Libbey passed away on May 23, 2022. Prior to her passing, Chen was able to connect with Libbey about this gift in her honor. Throughout her life’s work, Libbey demonstrated a passion and commitment to peace, justice, and serving others. A Celebration of Life service is scheduled at Grinnell United Church of Christ on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022.

Grinnell’s Office of International Student Affairs will use the “Jean Libbey Middle of Everywhere Fund” to support initiatives that help make Grinnell and the state of Iowa feel like “home away from home” for students from around the world.

Karen Edwards, dean for international student affairs, says, “I am so grateful that Liyan and Brian have chosen to honor Jean in this way. Liyan and Jean’s relationship embodied the best of what our Friends of International Students Program has to offer — finding deep friendship across culture, and mutual care for community at the local and the global level.”   

Learn More About Friends of International Students at Grinnell College 

Friends of International Students (FIS) has offered a valuable bridge between the campus and the local community for many years. The program helps students and local hosts connect with one another across culture, language, and generation – enriching the lives of all who participate. 

As articulated by Chen’s gift to the College, this program helps students from around the globe know that they are welcome in Grinnell, Iowa. [#YouAreWelcomeHere]

Through FIS, community hosts are matched with new international students. The hosts help students navigate and learn about local culture. Participating students learn more about our town, and hosts learn more about the College. Everyone learns more about each other and the world!

How to be an FIS Host for Grinnell College 

Each fall, the College welcomes approximately 100 new international and global nomad students to campus. Students are invited to participate in FIS during their first year on campus, and some relationships last longer. Participants connect throughfood and conversation; music and the arts; athletics and nature; and local and regional adventures.

Visit to learn more about the program and to apply to be an FIS host for the coming academic year! Please submit your application by July 15, 2022.

Photo Cutline: Liyan Chen ’12 and Cynthia Wu ’12 (both from China) are pictured here with their Friends of International Students Host Jean Libbey.


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