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Program helps exchange students

Stacey Atvgis | Monday, September 2, 2013

For international students traveling great distances to attend Saint Mary’s, a revamped International Peer Mentor program will help ease the transition to campus life.

Junior Huyaling (Nora) Wang, co-chair of the International Committee of the Student Government Association (SGA), said the Peer Mentor program was not efficiently promoted last year, leaving international students susceptible to homesickness.

“The program actually started second semester last year,” said Kaitlyn Tarullo, the committee’s other co-chair. “This year, we met with the international students at orientation in order to promote a cohesive relationship with the new Belles and the returning students.”

There are 20 new international students at Saint Mary’s this semester, coming from countries such as Australia, China, Japan and Korea, Wang said. While each student chooses to stay at the College for either a semester, a year or all four years, she said the difficulties they face are similar. Smooth transitioning to another country requires easy access to cultural and second-language norms, which can be facilitated with the help of a peer mentor.

Wang said Saint Mary’s students interested in the peer mentor position will undergo an online application and interview process. Once chosen and paired with an international student, they will serve as an outlet of support for that student.  

Wang, a degree-seeking student from China, said she recalls good memories from her transition to Saint Mary’s as a first-year but the process would be easier with the help of a peer mentor. At that time, there was no peer mentor program offered.

“We did have international activities on campus before this year, but I don’t think it had a large influence on campus,” she said. “We always had an international orientation, but we now have more activities for international students that will be noticed by the whole student body.”

Wang said this addition will help the international students adjust to Saint Mary’s campus life as soon as possible, enabling them to become active participants in the student body.

Senior ImJung Ha, an international student from South Korea, said peer mentors help exchange students adjust to the nuances of American life.

“Peer mentors are great because they help you make friends and help with English when the dictionary does not explain which word is right,” she said.

Simple activities such as taking international students shopping for supplies, helping them become familiar with the campus and the norms of an American college classroom and providing companionship will be incorporated in the Peer Mentor Program, Wang said.

Wang said she believes that this program will also affect the entire Saint Mary’s campus. She also said that involving Saint Mary’s students in this program will increase the awareness of international students attending Saint Mary’s.

“I think it would be really enough if all the students noticed,” Wang said. “I know students are always busy here, so sometimes they might not have the spare time. If we could promote the influence of the international student body this year, we would make progress.”

Contact Stacey Avtgis at savtgi01@saintmarys.edu