International Educator - May/June 2012 - 114
By Marian Kisch
Peer mentors help international students adapt to u.S. campus life.
HEN RASTI JAMEEL INVITED SOME OF HIS NEW FRIENDS from Kent State University in Ohio to go to a restaurant, he paid the bill—as he often did in his native Kurdistan, a region of Iraq. He had yet to learn that in the United States, college students usually paid for themselves. So, the bill was paid twice. (They did get the money back.)
He also discovered other cultural differences: “In my country we shake hands and kiss each other; here everyone wants his or her own personal space.” International students have lots of questions before going abroad to study: How do I find a place to live? Who are the best professors? How does the public transportation system work? “If they don’t have anyone to talk to, it can be challenging,” Eron Memaj, adviser for Kent State International Mentor (KSIM) program, says. Several higher education institutions have come to the rescue through peer mentoring and buddy programs, pairing U.S. and international students. Some are university run, some student run, and some a combination of the two. Although they vary in size, structure, flexibility, and training, they all provide a bridge to the American way of life.
Meeting International Student Needs
Overseas students need help in a variety of areas, from the nitty-gritty of finding housing and getting a cell phone without a social security number to signing up for classes and obtaining a driver’s license. They also have to adjust to different expectations. Back home, their grades may have been based on one exam with class attendance not required. In the United States they have lots of quizzes and learn that class participation counts toward their final grade. “Many international students come from colleges without health services, student organizations, and academic skills centers,” Jodi Simek, international student adviser at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s (UWEC) Center for International Education, says. “At home, everything is planned for them. Here they have to make choices about everything; it can be overwhelming.” Jameel learned a lot from his buddies: to pump gas, order food, and use public transportation. He also went bowling, to movies, and to parties, where he met other Americans as well as other international students. “I would not have had an opportunity to do this on my own,” he says.
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