Xiaofan Yang knew from experience that an international student’s transition to studying in the U.S. isn’t easy — and doing it virtually is even harder. When she heard about a new peer mentor program created by the American Culture and Language Institute (ALCI), she eagerly applied. “I want to be the person who tells a shy international student like me — ‘Hey, you are just going through culture shock. It happens to a lot of people. I understand how you feel,’” she says.
The volunteer program, created by ALCI Program Coordinator Carissa Leung, pairs returning international students from across Clark’s undergraduate and graduate programs with new students in ALCI’s English for Academic Success (EAS) program. “We know that students are much more comfortable meeting with, and asking questions of, their peers,” says Leung.
“The program focuses on the importance of making connections,” she explains. “One of our main goals at ALCI is always to make connections across campus and to build a sense of community for international students on the Clark campus. We want new students to feel that they are a part of Clark as they begin their academic journeys with us. The mentors recognize what is important for new students to know.”
The 17 mentors, who have had the experience of learning in a new country themselves, are uniquely positioned to help new students deal with any anxiety about their transition to a new semester at a new school. Each mentor will be matched with one-to-three students, and will help their mentees navigate any challenges they may face.
“The goal is to create friendships,” say Leung. “The students will start out as peer/mentee, but by the end we want them to create lasting relationships that go beyond Clark.”
Mentors will draw on personal experiences and challenges to offer advice, resources, activities, and support to help new students transition to life in the U.S. The program also gives the mentors opportunities to develop their own leadership, communication, and professional skills.
“I believe the opportunities for the peer mentors to add to their résumés with the robust program Carissa has developed makes this a unique opportunity for the mentors as well as a way to connect our ESL students with other Clarkies,” says Sarah Lopolito, director of ACLI.
Weekly coffee hours, with topics and programs designed by the mentors, will focus on informative, useful ideas that will help with academic and cultural adjustment, such as navigating ClarkYou and Moodle; APA/MLA formatting; learning in the U.S.; time management; and local community and transportation. The mentors will check in frequently to keep students active and engaged, as most of the mentees are learning remotely from their homes abroad.
Yang, who is working on a master’s in communication, believes the program will be very helpful for new students by helping them gain confidence and not feel isolated in an unfamiliar environment.
“I’ve grown up quite a bit, and I’m able to understand what stopped me from experiencing all the fun things on campus and in a brand new life abroad,” she says. “The ALCI Program is a good starting point for new students who want to connect with their new life in Worcester, and I want to be helpful by trying to understand them based on my own experiences.”