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SMC plans mentor program for foreign students

Bridget Feeney | Friday, November 30, 2012

In an attempt to make international students feel more at home while studying at Saint Mary’s, the Student Government Association (SGA) is introducing a new peer mentor program, set to start next semester.

Junior Alli Gerths, International Chair of SGA, said the goal of the International Mentor program is to make foreign students feel welcome and fully supported during their time at Saint Mary’s.

“It is [SGA’s goal] that international students will be able to better adjust to campus life at Saint Mary’s with the help of student mentors,” she said. “We hope that by providing a Saint Mary’s student, as both a mentor and a friend, she will be able to eliminate some of the stresses international students feel when transitioning into Saint Mary’s.”

Gerths said the responsibilities of the mentor will ensure the international student feels welcome and included in all academic and social aspects of Saint Mary’s.

“Mentors will be asked to participate in orientation at the beginning of the semester and assist her international students in the move in process and obtaining necessary items,” she said.
“Mentors are also expected to actively attempt to include her student in social activities and to remain in contact with the international student throughout the semester.”

According to Gerths, international students will benefit from having a Saint Mary’s student as a mentor because she has already gone through the adjustment to college and the different challenges that come with it.

“SGA feels that it is very important to have student mentors for international students because Saint Mary’s students know best how to adjust to life on campus at Saint Mary’s,” she said. “Each mentor has lived through the challenges of her first semester at Saint Mary’s and therefore will be able to effectively answer questions and advise new international students.”

The new program is open to all Saint Mary’s students who fit the criteria for SGA’s idea of what makes a mentor.

“We are looking for students who are passionate about their time at Saint Mary’s, which is reflected in their involvement in clubs and organizations, good academic standing and a positive social life on campus,” said Gerths.

While all students are encouraged to apply, Gerths said SGA is looking for applicants who have previously spent a semester or year studying abroad. Gerths said this previous experience will allow the mentors to connect with the international students on a deeper level.

“The reason for this is so that mentors have the ability to understand and identify with what the international student is going through moving to a foreign land to study,” she said. “Because the mentors have been through the study abroad experience, they will be able to guide an international student through issues like culture shock and homesickness.”

Gerths, who spent her entire sophomore year abroad, said she believes her time away from Saint Mary’s at other universities enhanced her understanding of the challenges of transitioning to life at new places with new people.

“Studying abroad has changed my life, and it definitely had a huge impact on my decision to take the International Chair position on SGA,” she said. “I learned a great deal about life and grew so much as a young woman during my semesters in Ireland and South Africa, that I feel the personal responsibility to help others to do the same.  I figured out who I am and where I want to go in life while I was abroad, and I want the international students that come to Saint Mary’s to make the same discoveries about themselves.”

When Gerths spent her spring semester abroad in South Africa, she was impacted by her own international peer mentor at the university she studied abroad at. She said she wants international students who attend Saint Mary’s to have the same positive experience and friendship with their peer mentors she had when she was abroad.

“I fully support this program because I had a student mentor, Kline, while I was in South Africa,” she said. “He was there when I arrived to help me through orientation, but he also became my first native friend there.  He played such an important role in helping me adjust to the different ways of life there so I was able to assimilate quickly and focus on enjoying my time, rather than worrying about cultural differences.”

While Gerths said she recognizes the many ways the international students grow from having a mentor, she also said she hopes the international student isn’t the only one to benefit from this experience. She said she wants the mentors to broaden their knowledge of other cultures and countries through their time spent with the international students.

“We hope that mentors will be able to expand their own cultural horizons by learning about their international student›s culture and life back in her home country,” she said.

The deadline to apply to be a International Mentor has passed, but Gerths said new applications will be sent out at the end of the spring 2013 semester for students interested in mentoring during the fall of 2013.

Contact Bridget Feeney at bfeene01@saintmarys.edu