The transition from high school to university can be a shock for many new students, even more so if you go to a university outside your home country. Many international students face intense pressure during their stay at Memorial University, and without family and friends studying abroad can be a difficult struggle. Luckily, there is a service that gives international students the opportunity to build connections and friendships at Memorial University: the MUN Mentors Program.
The MUN Mentors Program is a peer mentorship program whereby new international students are matched with and mentored by current MUN Students throughout their first semester at Memorial. The program helps students develop effective study habits, gets them involved in campus and community events, and provides a friendly face to see around campus and St. John’s.
Program Coordinator Peter Ogban has been a member of the MUN Mentors Program since 2017, and was able to provide an interview to go more in depth of the program’s activities and goals.
How did the idea for the mentor program come about?
It came up because Memorial University was beginning to have a large community of international students, and many of those international students didn’t have friends or family here when they first arrived, so the first few months can be very challenging for them. Many didn’t know their way around MUN, so they were unaware of many of the services the university offers. So there was a need for a mentorship program in a sense that senior students can be matched with newer international students and mentor them through their first semester, acting as a go-to person to show the new student around the university, introduce them to the various services available, and to just act as someone the new student can go to if they’re having issues.
How has the mentorship program changed from its inception to the present, and how has it adapted to the increase in online learning?
One way that the mentorship program has changed since its beginnings in the increase in publicity, so our hopes are that with increased publicity that more people are aware of the program. In the past we found that many international students were not made aware about it until after their first semester, and many of them had said that they could have used the mentorship program if they were made aware of it.
In regard to the pandemic, it has had a profound impact on the program because for the first time we’re having to do something completely different, so that of course comes with a lot of challenges. Many of our events in the program were face to face, having movie nights, going to the park, showing students around the city, etc., so going virtual was very challenging because at first we weren’t sure of what to do. We started working on new activities for the program like online games, scavenger hunts, and trivia nights. We’ve expanded our virtual meetings and events. Since many of the international students are studying in their own country at the moment and will be coming to Newfoundland when the pandemic ends, we’re using this as an opportunity to teach new students about the university and the province so that they’ll know more of what to expect when they get here.
The transition from in-person meetings to online mentorship has not been easy, but we’ve had quite a lot of success.
Is there a similar program for students who are past their first year that may be struggling?
We don’t have a singular program for senior students, but we definitely know that there are senior students who may be going through some challenges. This is primarily for new students, as we try to build more connections for new students as they continue their academic path. We have many networking events, help them with time management when it comes to studying, and encourage them to volunteer. We are expanding the program and looking for ways to improve it, so helping senior students is one of the things we’re looking into. Right now one of the things we’re doing is that we’re trying to involve MUN graduates to match graduates with senior students, when that is implemented we’ll be able to address the issues for senior students who may be struggling to adapt.
What would you say to someone who might want to become a mentor?
You’re very much welcome to, we are a very open community. Our application process is straightforward and is available on our website, as long as you’ve been at MUN for at least one semester and your GPA is greater than 2.0 then you are welcome to apply to the program. We provide training to our new mentors, so those who wouldn’t know where to start don’t have to worry.
What’s something you want more people to know about the program?
First of all, I came to St. John’s as an international student, so the problem with getting used to living in a new place without family or friends around is very real, and many of them suffer from depression because of it. I had that experience when I first came to Newfoundland, and I wasn’t aware of the mentor’s program at the time but upon learning about it I realized how much of an impact it could make for new international students. When I learnt about the program, knowing the struggle is what really drew me towards the program, I had a chance to help someone not go through the same struggle I went through when I first came here. The struggle and mental health issues that face international students when they first come here is very real, and this program is very effective in dealing with these issues. The mentorship program is a hybrid program, it’s a mix of formal and informal organizations. It’s often just as simple as being someone a new student can call a friend, going out for lunch or a coffee, just being someone to talk to. It often extends beyond to one semester for new students, I myself still get together with one of my old mentees and I consider him a good friend.
If you’re interested in becoming involved with the MUN Mentors Program, visit their website by clicking here.