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US uni to pilot international student mentorship program

mentorship mentoring
A problem shared is a problem halved. Source: Shutterstock.

Arriving in a new country where you know no one and feel like you know nothing about the culture, weather, people or, well… anything, can be pretty scary. That is why George Washington University (GWU) is implementing a mentorship program in which international students will be met at the airport by students who were in their shoes just a year or two ago, as well as staff.

Over the next few months, the students will regularly receive interaction from the International Services Office as a part of a new scheme to improve international student experiences.

ISO director Jennifer Donaghue told the GW Hatchet the pilot program will begin in the autumn to make sure students feel at home from the get-go and beyond in the US.

The ISO is “exploring the feasibility” of not just being there to welcome students, but of organising fun welcome booths handing out water and snacks at the airport.

“Our goal with this initiative is to provide a warm, friendly welcoming experience for international students as they step off the plane and embark on their collegiate career,” she told the GW Hatchet via email.

The man behind it is the outgoing Student Association (SA) President Peak Sen Chua, the first international student at GWU to ever hold that position.

“This is something I’ve always tried to center as part of my position as SA president,” Chua said. “Trying to ensure that international student voices are included in every single conversation.”

Previously the ISO worked to help international students with their visas, however the new initiatives – which include a brand-new ambassador and mentorship program – hope to give students the support they need when they arrive in the US.

The ISO is planning to implement a scheme called the International Student Community Ambassadors program, which will be a peer-advising initiative led by international students, for international students.

“This plan is to bring international student voices to the ISO and work with them to ensure that our input is reflected in the programs that they implement,” said Chua.

As an international student who arrived in the US from Malaysia as a freshman, creating a more inclusive community for international students who are in the position he was in a few years back was incredibly important to him.

He told the GW Hatchet he struggled to find a welcoming international student community because he didn’t know where to look. The airport welcome, for Chua, is the highlight of the scheme as it immediately eases students into life in the US in a much smoother way.

“We just want them to feel like when they land in the airport and they don’t know where to go, that GWU is welcoming them,” Chua said. “From that point on, adjusting to campus and college life in a foreign country will be far easier.”

Donaghue claimed the ISO also plans to launch a monthly newsletter for international students circulated via email to keep them in the know about any special programs or events they may be interested in.

Former assistant director of GWU International Students Avia Zhang said she was welcomed at the airport when she came to the university, arranged by the Chinese Student Association, and is delighted other students will get to receive the same warm welcome and give them a sense of belonging.

“I felt very appreciative and safe – there was a sense of home, a sense of belonging right there,” she said.

GWU is not the only university which offers services like this, however, Chua said typically the engagement doesn’t extend further than the initial airport greeting.

The ISO, together with the International Students Association (ISA) and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), set the plans in motion, ready for next semester’s admission of international students.

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