Be a mentor with International Student Services’ Buddy Program – now featuring the largest personalized matching program for new international students of any university in Canada
By McGill Reporter Staff
Starting school in a new environment can be pretty tough. For students arriving on campus from another country it can be really stressful. A friendly face, a helping hand, and hopefully a first Montreal friendship, can make a world of difference for new arrivals.
Since its inception 28 years ago, McGill’s Buddy Program, which uses current students to mentor incoming international students, has helped thousands of people settle into McGill and Montreal – including more than 1,700 last year. When you’re new, having someone to show you around the campus or just to yak with, can really make a difference.
Buddy Volunteers pass on insider information – where to buy food and do your banking, etc. – language and cultural guidance, and the general scoop about life at McGill, to new students.
When it comes to other academic and non-academic issues, Buddy Volunteers are provided training to act as a point of referral. For example, if a new student has questions about their immigration documents, the Buddy volunteer puts them in touch with the International Student Services, so that a certified immigration consultant can assist them. If they have questions about their course selection, the volunteer connects them with their Academic Advisor. If they have questions about their tuition fees and fee payment, they are directed to the Student Accounts office.
Volunteers and new students are paired during the summer by International Students Services (ISS) during the year, allowing new fall students to be in touch with their buddies over the summer.
There is no hard deadline for signing up, but it really helps if Buddy Volunteers and new students sign up before the term begins so a smooth pairing can happen.
Caroline Guay, International Student Development & Communications Manager, with ISS at McGill says the International Buddy Program now features some great new tech.
“Last year we worked with a recent McGill graduate who developed a new web-based software platform to help us manage the registration, matching and volunteers’ progress towards the completion of program milestones,” says Guay. “The matching process is now mostly automated (although we confirm the match that is proposed), and we can better track how volunteers and new students advance through the program. Based on the research we conducted, we realized that we have the largest such personalized matching program for new international students of any university in Canada, and now we have customized, in-house software to manage it. This software is already being considered for other matching programs that exist across the University.”
Guay is also proud that McGill’s International Student Buddy volunteer Program may be oldest peer support program in Canada. McGill is almost 200 years old and has had a strong international reputation for a long time. There were already a significant number of international students at McGill before the world-wide trend of international student mobility exploded and started impacting universities across Canada. As a result, this kind of peer support programming started a bit later in the rest of Canada.
And it can have a big impact. “Two years ago I participated in a few alumni ‘send-off’ events (for newly-admitted international students) in Boston, New York, and Connecticut. I actually met a few alumni at these events who graduated anywhere from 10 to 25 years ago and are still close friends with their Buddies! They say it was one of the highlights of their McGill experience,” says Guay.
There is room for a lot of people in the program, according to Guay. “In an ideal world, there would be one volunteer for each new student. In reality, volunteers often take two or three students, as it is sometimes a challenge to find enough volunteers. My objective this year is to recruit (and train) at least 1,000 new volunteers. We had 1,775 new students requesting volunteers last year, so we anticipate getting at least as many requests this year (if not more).”
Buddies – domestic (from Quebec and Canada) and international – are needed at all levels: undergraduate; Master’s; and PhD; across all faculties, and on both campuses. There is some “paying it forward,” in the sense that many international students who benefitted from the program when they first arrived want to give back to the McGill community and become buddies themselves.
Conversely, a number of domestic students who participated as volunteers have traveled (or lived) abroad and have had positive contact with international students in their classes or residences. The Buddy program provides them with another way to build on those experiences.
All Buddy Volunteers get a training webinar (one hour) on topics that include culture shock, intercultural communication, making referrals (to campus resources), student privacy and confidentiality, and tips for introducing their charges to McGill and Montreal.
The program also provides other benefits, including:
- acquiring mentorship experience
- obtaining recognition on their McGill Co-Curricular record
- making new social connections
- learning about another culture (or connecting with someone from their own culture)
- developing intercultural communication skills