International student mentor program fosters global citizenship across campus

Posted by Centre News in Campus, News, Study Abroad 09 Jan 2014

Centre College prides itself on drawing students from across the Commonwealth, the nation, and increasingly, the world. Thanks to the work of International Student Advisor Stephen Swan, a new international student mentor program stands ready and waiting to greet Centre’s newest arrivals from overseas.

“First-year international students go through all the same problems first-year domestic students do,” says Swan. “However, international students’ troubles are compounded by the fact that they are often thousands of miles from home in a new country, away from family and friends, and everyone around them is speaking a different language and observing different customs.

“The mentor program is essential to helping first-year international students acclimate to life in the U.S.,” he continues, “life in Kentucky, life in Danville and finally life at Centre. It also helps get students out of the ‘international bubble’ they sometimes find themselves in.”

For Chelsea Neal ’14, who mentored Leili Niu ’17, one of the biggest parts of the mentoring process was simply helping Niu experience Centre’s and America’s culture to the fullest.

“Leili and I often had lunch together,” Neal says. “We went stream wading with the biology department [pictured right] since Leili’s interested in biology and hoping to get a degree in it. We went on trips to WalMart, had Thanksgiving dinner together and had a Christmas gift exchange.”

For Neal, getting to know Niu was a fun experience that also benefitted her academically.

“In three of my classes this semester,” Neal explains, “we had sections of the class syllabus devoted to studying China. I loved being able to discuss some of these topics with Leili and find out more about China.”

Two of Neal’s friends, Karissa Jackson ’14 and Chelsea Barger ’14, also mentored international students.

“We had lots of group outings and study sessions,” Neal says. “This made the experience especially fun, because we were all able to become friends with each other, expanding the mission of the program.”

“I like Chelsea very much,” says Niu. “When I have troubles, she is very willing to help me. She and her friends make me feel so warm; it’s my first time in America, so I’m not familiar with many things and it’s hard for me to make friends quickly. With Chelsea as a mentor, I can learn things about America and have a friend to talk with.”

Niu’s favorite experience with Neal was Thanksgiving dinner—her first ever.

“We ate delicious food, talked together and took photos,” she says. “It was my first and best Thanksgiving experience. If I didn’t have Chelsea as my mentor, I wouldn’t have so many happy memories!”

Though their mentorship is officially over, both Neal and Niu plan on continuing to study and eat lunch together during spring semester.

“At an institution that prides itself on creating global citizens, it is opportunities like this, often unmeasured, that have big impacts,” says Swan. “The program is only going to get bigger and better in future, with more group events each semester.

“The mentor program exemplifies what it means to be a global citizen,” he adds. “It means being there for others, helping people understand different cultures, and broadening one’s horizons, whether mentee or mentor.”

Learn more about the Center for Global Citizenship.

By Mariel Smith