The Office of International Students and Scholars has launched the Lehigh International Peer Program, a pilot program that pairs current Lehigh students with incoming international students in an effort to create cross-cultural bonding and promote mutual learning.
The mutual learning is two-fold, benefiting both international and domestic students who attend Lehigh.
“We have heard from a lot of international students in the past that they wish to have opportunities to meet and make friends with American students, as it is part of the reason they are in U.S. to have cultural experiences with American students,” said Jeanne Tan Ma, the program organizer and assistant director of the Office of International Students and Scholars. “Also, we wish domestic students to learn something new about the students from other cultures and get firsthand experiences before they go abroad. ”
According to Tan Ma, international students tend to struggle with language barriers for the first couple of months. Subsequently, they grapple with different cultural backgrounds. Tan Ma said students sometimes find it difficult to get into an American circle, as they might not have much shared experience or knowledge.
The International Peer Program aims to give both international and domestic students opportunities to interact with and develop lifelong friendships among students of different ethnic, social and economic backgrounds.
“As an international student, I understand the emotional implications that come along with moving to a different country,” said Ilias-Petros Larsinos, ’18, who applied to be a mentor. “For some, the transition is easy. For others it is long, confusing and painful.”
Larsinos said he wants to be a mentor in order to share his experiences and advise those who will undergo the same transition he did.
“I want to make sure that Lehigh becomes a home for everyone,” Larsinos said. “I hope that this program will enable me to change one person’s outlook. If they are not enjoying themselves at Lehigh as much as they thought they would, I want to make sure that that will change.”
According to Tan Ma, the Office of International Students and Scholars received around 40 mentor applications from current students. She said that she wasn’t sure how many students the program would attract since it is their first time organizing the program. She said she was pleased to see so many students applied and are interested and willing to help incoming international students. She thinks this shows that this sort of program is needed for Lehigh’s campus.
By this summer, mentors and mentees will be paired based on their interests or shared major. During this period, the pair will communicate via email prior to the arrival of the new student.
At the beginning of the 2015 fall semester, a Lehigh International Peer Program social event will be held during the first week of classes to allow mentors and mentees to meet for the first time. Subsequently, the pair will have weekly meetings for the fall semester, and they will keep a journal of their weekly activities to be reviewed by the peer mentoring advisory committee.
The group is expected to meet once a month to address questions and issues or will simply use the time to socialize and reflect. The number of students in each group will depend on the number of applications received from the first-year students — it could be one-to-one or a group with three to four people.
“Right now, the program is only for undergraduate students,” Tan Ma said. “Yet, if it turns out to be successful, we are hoping to expand this to graduate students, as well, because we indeed have a larger population of international graduate students. We want to provide them with the same opportunities.”
The deadline for the mentor application was March 20 and application review is underway. Shortlisted candidates will be invited to an interview and decisions will be made by the end of the spring semester. A separate application will be available in May 2015 for first-year students.
Larsinos said he is excited about the prospect of being an International Peer Program mentor. Not only does he believe the program will help incoming first-year international students to transition into Lehigh life, but he also expects to benefit from the program.
“I expect to meet more than just a mentee,” Larsinos said. “I expect to meet a friend whom I will show Lehigh around to and whom I will make feel welcomed to America.”