The International Student Advisory Board (ISAB) launched its Buddy Program for the first time this semester, pairing incoming international first-year students with returning international students. Twenty-eight first-year students and 40 returning students signed up for the program, with a mixture of on-campus and remote students, according to ISAB member Robyn Wong ’23.
The Buddy Program was developed in the hopes of giving international students in the class of 2024 a supportive social community in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think the need for it was recognizing that we are under a very special set of circumstances this semester, and so many incoming international students, whether they’re transfer students or [first years], they’ll be starting college remotely, which
is crazy,” Wong said. “I think it’s already difficult for international students or returning students to be studying remotely or any student to be studying remotely. But at least [returning students] have some sort of network of people that we know and we’re familiar with how Wesleyan works. But I would be terrified as a [first year] to come in basically completely blind.”
Jennie Ebihara ’24, who is studying remotely for the fall semester, signed up for the program because she wanted to connect with returning students who could tell her about the University and share helpful insights.
“I think the biggest thing was I wanted some type of connection, especially with someone who already knew what Wesleyan was like,” Ebihara said. “I especially wanted to talk about classes and extracurriculars, so I thought that getting paired with someone older than me…would be good, especially because I’m taking classes online so I don’t really have a sense of what Wesleyan feels like.”
Another remote student, Angelina Chang ’24, signed up for the Buddy Program to find a sense of social connection with other students.
“Because COVID happened, basically I don’t have a social life if I didn’t sign up for anything so I needed someone real to talk to and this seemed most convenient,” Chang said. “And I could be able to know the ins and outs of school at the same time.”
ISAB also wanted to use the Buddy Program to help facilitate connections among returning international students as well.
“Beyond just serving the [first years]…we really want to encourage a greater sense of solidarity and community amongst the international community,” Wong said.
Hayate Murayama ’21, who is studying remotely for the fall semester, signed up for the Buddy Program because he sympathized with the incoming international first-year students and wanted to help them adjust to college.
“I’m very sympathetic with the situation the [first years] are having right now,” Murayama said. “I think it’s really hard based on my experience as an international student who had the experience of studying on campus as a freshman, and it was really hard adjusting to the lifestyle or a new environment of Wesleyan and U.S. colleges…. [First years] right now, they are in a situation of online school and also new college experience, and I think about those situations and I really wanted to be a good mentor or wanted to be helpful for them.”
Tanvi Modi ’22, who is studying on campus this semester, also said that her personal experiences as an international student made her want to become a mentor figure for incoming international students struggling with adjustment.
“When I came in as an international student, I really hoped that there was somebody who I could relate to, and they could help me out—because you literally come in here and you have so many things that you have to deal with, as a culture shock—you have to sort of adjust to the way academics happen here and social life and so many other things,” Modi said. “Because we’re in this situation, because of COVID, I think that makes it 100 times more difficult for incoming [first years] to adjust, especially if they’re not on campus, because…a big part of Wesleyan is campus life, and if you can’t do that, I think it’s so hard to feel attached or even feel a sense of belonging to the community.”
Wong explained that ISAB intends to use the Buddy Program as a network to spread important information to international students, especially surrounding immigration and mental health resources.
“Information dissemination is a really important aspect of what we hope to do, I think, and we’ve realized over the summer…a lot of students just don’t know what they don’t know and we want to make sure people have that information,” Wong said. “Not just with the softer side of things, like, ‘Oh, how did you choose your courses’ or how to make friends, but also legal issues of what it means to be an international student or a student on the F-1 visa. So immigration information, and also mental health resources [is] a very big one that we’ve been emphasizing.”
To this end, the returning student buddies participated in two mandatory training sessions: an introductory welcome to the program that focused on how to give advice and navigate their roles as mentors and a session with the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services on mental health and specific resources available for international students.
Wong hopes to continue the Buddy Program in future semesters and says ISAB is looking to hear feedback on possible changes to the program.
“We do have a certain idea of what we want [the program] to be, and we have a pretty clear sense of what our goals are, but we’re still learning as we go and adjusting what we need to do,” Wong said. “Ideally, if people come forward with suggestions and feedback, we’re very open to that. So yeah, I think the form of the program is still rather fluid. It’s not set in stone. And so even if we repeat it next semester or the next year, it might look slightly different.”
Modi expressed support for the program’s continuation and encouraged other international students to join in the future.
“It’s not a big commitment, and there’s nothing that [the program] really expects you to do except be friends with somebody who’s joining college,” Modi said. “You can only gain from this experience, so why not?”
For Murayama, being a buddy has been a positive experience so far, and he’s glad that ISAB created a way for first-year students to stay connected and have a supportive community even during the pandemic.
“I’m very glad that [ISAB] created this program so that even being in this tough situation, the international [first years] can feel a little bit like—find a place or if they could talk to somebody who has already been on campus to have the experience,” Murayama said.
Jiyu Shin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jiyu_shin.