College creates peer mentor program for international students

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Photo: Cynthia Tu

Andrea Popa (center), director of the Office of International Student Affairs, with international students in 2019.

By Hanna Marchesseault

The Office of International Student Affairs and the Office of Housing and Residence Life plan to implement an International Student Peer Mentor program starting in the fall 2019 semester to support new international students in their transition to the college’s campus and the United States.

Assistant Dean for Campus Life Elizabeth Ching-Bush designed the ISPM program so new international students would feel more comfortable on campus. Upon arrival, students will be placed with one of five mentors who will make themselves available throughout the academic year to answer any questions students might have about the campus or Boston.

Hemenway Residence Director Matthew Carney said OISA and OHRL recognized that international students sometimes experience the toughest transition when arriving to campus. International students make up 16 percent of the Emerson undergraduate student population, according to the college’s website. This is an increase from the spring 2017 semester when the international student population was 10 percent

“Over the past few years, our international population admitted and accepted into Emerson has been growing, and we really want programs set in place that will support the student as a whole in our communities,” he said.

Each of the peer mentors will live in a double room in Little Building, where the college plans on housing mostly first-year students.  

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Carney said the college’s budget only allows for five peer mentor positions. Peer mentors will not get an hourly wage, but they will receive half off of their room and board fees, and can choose their roommate. A standard double in Emerson’s residence halls costs $8,845. Peer mentors’ roommates must pay full price for room and board.

Director of International Student Affairs Andrea Popa said in a phone interview that the college offered the ISPM program for the last few years, but the two offices decided to make it more structured for the upcoming year to support international students better. In the past, the program was similar but did not have the constant support this new program aims to provide, Popa said.

Popa said she believes the new program will allow international students to feel like they’re heard on the campus.

“Instead of international students asking for help, this will be more of a community builder,” she said. “This is a great way for students to have a position where they’re empowered and can form new relationships.”

Freshman Qinyun Fan applied to be a peer mentor and has an interview this week. Fan is from Shanghai, China, and understands that the transition to a new country is particularly difficult.

“I had never heard of a program like this before but I searched around and found that a lot of other schools have mentor programs like this, and I think it’ll be helpful for freshmen,” she said. “This year I was always a little confused with the school services, and what the school offers us as freshmen.”

In Boston, Northeastern University and Boston University both use programs similar to ISPM. The international undergraduate population of Northeastern is 20 percent, and Boston University is 23 percent, according to their websites.

Carney oversees the peer mentor hiring process and will create a timeline through December 2019 for the position and what the offices must do to help international students. He will also act as the point of contact for any questions from mentors and students about the program.

Carney said the application for an international peer mentor is not limited to international students, and the college will conduct interviews for the position on April 3 and 4. Students who apply must complete at least two semesters at the college and be in good academic standing. The application for the 2019-2020 academic year is closed, but students can apply again next year.

“The application is open to anyone. We want them to show us how they will be able to support our incoming and growing international population here at Emerson,” Carney said.

Fan said she believes the program will help international students acclimate to a new city.

“For international students, they just came to a new city and this is a brand new language for many of them. I think having a peer mentor offers a connection in a new phase of a new life,” she said.  

The chosen peer mentors will be required to meet with mentees at least one hour a week, attend monthly meetings with OISA and OHRL staff members and mentees, plan and facilitate events, and participate in the International Pre-Orientation from August 24 through 26.

“This upcoming year is definitely going to be a test year, and a growing year for us,” Carney said. “With the Little Building opening, that is going to be an amazing experience for our students to all live under one roof. This year we really want to focus on that support aspect for our students, and then reevaluate through different means of assessment for both peer mentors and students who are being mentored to see what needs to be improved or continued for future years.”