International Educator - May/June 2012 - 117
Once mentors are selected, some are required to attend formal training sessions. At UWEC, a summer week-long course trains mentors on intercultural communication, registration procedures, and international student concerns. At IUPUI, mentors attend training sessions in the spring to learn the particulars of the program. They also are required to take a one-credit, 10-week course on mentoring techniques each semester, along with mentors from other programs. Additionally, each mentor is assigned a “responsibility area”: orientation, outreach, or welcome assistant. This work can be applied to the program’s required 200 service hours per year. Kuchins offers his buddies some less formal instructions: “Remember, this is not a dating service. Your responsibilities include picking up your buddies from the airport, touring San Francisco, and introducing them to your friends. Don’t expect to be best friends, but if you do make the connection, that’s great.”
Although partnerships usually work out well, homesickness, schedules, or personalities sometimes get in the way. Also, international students often tend to congregate with one another, precluding interaction with U.S. students. Language barriers can also present problems. American idioms can create humorous situations. At Kent State an international student inquired why his partner kept asking him to repeat everything. His mentor, on the other hand, was wondering why his mentee kept repeating himself. The culprit turned out to be the phrase, “you can say that again.” They both had a good laugh when the mentor, realizing the source of
Mentees also get help with practical things. Petrick helped his graduate Chinese mentee obtain his driver’s license, but there were a few hairy moments, like the time the new driver made a wide turn and wound up on the curb. The EASE program provides bedding, towels, and cell phones for purchase by mentees so they don’t have to scramble for these essentials when they first arrive.
Mentors Gain a lot, Too
Confidence. Teamwork. Language skills. Expanded networks. These are just some of the perks for mentors, some of whom go on to careers in international education. Future study abroad students are eager to learn more about the country they’re going to visit and make connections, some of whom they visit when they travel on their breaks. “Some students come from small towns with little diversity,” Memaj says. “This opens their world. They become more active and gain confidence. And because our program is student run, students can help make decisions.” Lia Rich became a mentor at Loyola University after returning from a year abroad in Australia. “My experience there opened up my global interests.” She had mentees from Singapore and Amsterdam. “Without this program, I would not have experienced any diversity at Loyola.” Ollendyke enjoyed her lunches in 2006 with her German graduate student, where they conversed half in English and half in French. This helped increase her language proficiency to prepare for her stint in France the next year. Ollendyke also hung out with his friends. They still keep in touch. “Being a mentor gave me more confidence and an opportunity to share my love of the university,” Durham says. “And it let me take a step back and reflect on my own experiences in Denmark. It helped me see how similar college students are, regardless of where they come from.” IE
MaRIaN kIScH is a freelance writer in chevy chase, maryland. her last article for IE was “india opens its doors— cautiously” in the november/december 2011 issue.
Honing leadership Skills
Both mentors and mentees have opportunities to gain important leadership skills. At IUPUI mentors present workshops to mentees. One innovative team devised a scavenger hunt to introduce campus resources; mentees scurried around math assistance offices, tutoring centers, and student employment offices to retrieve specific objects. Veteran peer guides at UWEC provide training for new recruits, meet with international visitors, and take leadership roles in residence halls. Several programs offer students a chance to be part of their executive boards. At SFSU, some 20 to 30 domestic students join the IEEC officer corps each year. Durham served as a vice president of EASE in his senior year, helping to select new mentors, and Paul Petrick is currently director of public relations on the KSIM executive board. Mentees join in, too. “Because mentees see their mentors involved in various activities, they’ve gotten involved in campus activities and taken on leadership roles in ways I’ve never seen before,” Lemons says.
“Because mentees see their mentors involved in various activities, they’ve gotten involved in campus activities and taken on leadership roles in ways i’ve never seen before.”
the misunderstanding, explained the phrase meant he was agreeing with the mentee.
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advantages for Mentees
“The programs help international students get off to a good start and get through the semester or year successfully,” Lemons says. “They are more aware of expectations and available resources and gain a social network.” Kuchins agrees: “They get to improve their language skills and learn the finer points of our culture. We want them to know our people and feel part of our city.”