By Yera Patel and Jaimie Hutchison
The International Newcomer Mentoring Pilot Program matched community volunteer mentors and international faculty newcomers for several months, to ease the transition to the U.S., Michigan and MSU. Community mentors learned about the international newcomer’s culture, traditions and rich ideas that they bring to the East Lansing and MSU community. For newcomers, having a local community mentor who could be there to answer questions about culture, customs, and help navigate the area was welcome.
Matches were made in October and officially continued until April. Five international newcomers to MSU were matched with six community mentors. After this pilot phase, participants completed a survey to evaluate the success of the program.
Community mentors and international newcomers connected with each other in person, via email or phone. Most participants responded that they felt extremely comfortable and safe communicating with their international newcomer or community mentor. Mentors and newcomers met with each other anywhere from two to eight times over six months. Group events for program participants and families included a football game in the Alumni Relations box, a dinner at Brody Hall, and an international potluck in a local home.
When asked about the best part of these group gatherings, participants liked meeting and talking with the other people in the program, having a unique experience of watching the football game, eating the food, learning from each other, and being able to relax in a friendly environment. Participants were asked what they gained the most from their match with a community mentor or an international newcomer. The responses focused on social aspects; gaining a new friend, learning about a new culture and traditions, or sharing conversations - mostly about understanding American customs and things to know about Michigan and community resources.
Responses to what the hardest part about transitioning to the U.S. were varied. One respondent said that the survey box response wasn’t enough room to describe all the challenges and that that’s why this program was great. Others identified language barriers, immigration paperwork, establishing friendships, setting up a bank account and social security number, and the credit and medical processes were the most challenging parts about moving to the U.S.. Newcomers wished they had known more about how to prepare for winter, utilize the postal service or write checks, and work life culture.
The suggestions for next year included keeping the program going because it helps all the participants meet more colleagues and neighbors. There was also a request to host more group activities. That won’t be a problem! Several newcomers and mentors both are looking forward to returning to support next year’s newcomers.
The MSU WorkLife Office assists newcomers to MSU from anywhere in the world. Individual consultations are provided, resources are shared about the community, and the WorkLife Office website has some helpful information as well. If you would like to learn more about the International Newcomer Mentoring program, refer a newcomer, volunteers, or find resources available to anyone at MSU, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.