Arriving on campus can be scary for any freshman, but international students are also faced with cultural changes and family separation on top of a heavy course load.
To help ease the transition, West Virginia University is starting a mentoring program for international students.
“Students are coming from far and wide and generally they leave every piece of support they had and are faced with setting up a whole new life here,” said Grace Atebe, assistant director of the Office of International Students and Scholars. “We thought what better way is there to help a student coming from abroad to adjust than to personally connect that student to a peer that can help them find their way and be a support system.”
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The mentoring program, which is being made possible with a $6,000 grant from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, will begin in the 2011 fall semester.
An application process for the student mentors will be arranged through the Office of Student Employment by early spring. All mentors must have at least a 2.5 GPA, and having experience with study abroad or in international relations is a plus, Atebe said.
Since the program is in a trial phase, around 10 students will be connected with mentors.
Student mentors will be paid in a stipend that will go towards their tuition and fees. The amount of that stipend has not yet been determined.
To recruit incoming international students into the program, the Office of International Students and Scholars will be sending an e-mail to incoming international students asking them to apply if interested.
The mentors will begin making contact with their mentees over the summer and will formally meet during international student orientation, which takes place the week before the fall semester begins.
The mentor will work with their assigned student during orientation, and everyone in the program will meet to do team building exercises.
“We want the group to get meshed, so the mentors know each other and the students know each other and everyone can get support,” she said.
During the first one to three weeks of the semester, the mentor will be devoted to helping the mentee with the basics, such as using the Personal Rapid Transit, using the campus e-mail system, registering for classes, etc. The fourth and fifth weeks of the semester and beyond will be focused on having more of a friend relationship, Atebe said.
Once a week, the mentors will be required to attend an on-campus activity with their mentee. The students are also welcome to do other activities like go bowling or to a movie, Atebe said.
In order to make sure that the mentees and mentors are spending time together, all students involved in the program will be required to keep a journal. They will be asked to record the programs they attended with a short summary of what they learned, how the experience was and to put a photo or other memento in the journal as proof they went.
“It will be sort of like a scrap book of the mentor/mentee relationship,” she said.
At the end of the semester-long program, the Office of International Students and Scholars will hold a mini-graduation reception for the students.
Overall, Atebe wants the program to help meet the needs of incoming international students, and be fun and educational for all involved.
“Those first few weeks and months are absolutely crucial – that is when they decide if they want to stay or leave. So for us, we are focused on meeting the needs of international students,” she said. “We know they will have questions and they will need support and they might not want to seek that information directly from a faculty or staff member. Having a peer to bounce things off should make things more comfortable.”
For more information on the program, contact the Office of International Students and Scholars at http://oiss.wvu.edu/ .
CONTACT: Grace Atebe, Office of International Students and Scholars
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