Mentor program helps bridge gap between international, American students


Tiffany Herring/Iowa State Daily

Webster Kpor, senior in industrial technology, is a mentor in the International Students Mentoring Program. This program pairs an ISU junior or senior mentor with two international students. The mentor then shows his mentees around Iowa State and does activities with them.

Katharina Gruenewald

After flying thousands of miles away from home, leaving family, friends and everything they have ever known behind, international students arrive in Ames knowing close to no one.

While adjusting to a new culture, a new environment and maybe a new school system it is sometimes easier for international students to stick with people who share the same background.

To encourage friendships between international students and Americans the International Student and Scholars Office offers a mentoring program where American juniors and seniors serve as mentors to new international students.

“Mentees are new international students that have just arrived in Ames,” said Paul Chung senior in management and international mentoring program coordinator. “[The mentors are supposed] to help them adapt to a new environment.”

In this semester-long program, mentors help their mentees with cultural differences and how to solve problems with their new American friends. They do activities together such as bowling, laser tag or dancing.

“We just invite them out to do things they might not know about otherwise. Just mix and mingle,” said Webster Kpor, senior in industrial technology and occupational safety and mentor in the program.”We have to meet four times a semester, but of course you can meet more often. Just go with the flow.”

Anyone can become a mentor. The only requirements are being sufficient in knowledge about Iowa State and fluent english skills. Chung said many mentors have interest in the global society and have made experiences abroad trough traveling or studying abroad.

David Harper, senior in kinesiology and mentor in the program, said he agrees.

“I love to meet international students. I went to Malaysia last summer, which was fun,” Harper said. “I got a feeling for what it is like to be in a different country for an extended period of time without knowing the language really well.”

Many international students who choose to sign up for this program are actually graduate and postgraduate students who come to the United States to advance their studies outside their home country.

Of the 123 applicants this semester, 40 percent were graduate students. Because many of them choose to live a more independent life, not as connected to the university as new international freshman, a mentor can provide valuable support.

“With the mentor, I can send him a text and ask him about anything and for sure I know he would do it,” said Yosef Jazaa, graduate in mechanical engineering from Saudi Arabia and mentee of Harper. “He always says to tell him if I need any help and that he will come right away, that is kind of a relief for an international student.”

And throughout the course of the semester the mentors and their mentees develop what is the ultimate goal of the program — deep friendships that could outlast the program for many years to come.

“We are already friends so we will continue [to see each other] whenever we want.” said Miao Fang Zhou graduate in landscape architecture from China and mentee of Kpor.”I really enjoy it.”

Fang Zhou’s fellow mentee, Qiao Hongming, graduate in sociology who is also from China and mentee of Kpor, said he agrees.

“The mentor program is a good opportunity to make American friends and have fun with them,” Hongming said. “It is a way of experiencing American culture. I enjoy it as well.”

With this being the second semester of the program, it is still a fairly new opportunity for ISU students, but one that has already shown success, Harper said. 

Last semester’s mentors and mentees were extremely satisfied with the outcome and current mentees would recommend incoming internationals to take advantage of this opportunity. 

“It is hard to bridge the gap between internationals and Americans. This program provides a really easy way to create the initiative to have that friendship,” Harper said. “And once you have that you can see how awesome it is to be friends with someone from a different culture.”