International students gain peer mentors

For international students arriving in New Haven for the first time the summer before their freshman year, a network of returning overseas Elis working for the Orientation for International Students will help ease their initial transition into college. But after the frenzy of “Camp Yale” has passed, international students looking for help adjusting to a new school — and country — are largely on their own.

Proposed changes to the University’s freshman-counselor program will help to remedy this problem. The reforms will establish a peer mentoring program for international students similar to other new programs for disabled students as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students.

Such changes should help fill a gap in the peer advising resources currently available to international students, which diminish as the school year progresses, students interviewed said. Administrators are still ironing out the details of the reform, which is planned to take effect in the fall of 2009 with the freshman counseling overhaul.

“In some cases, the new peer mentors might be an enhanced version of something that already exists through their student groups; in other cases, it might be something wholly new,” Dean of Freshman Affairs George Levesque wrote in an e-mail. “We also expect there to be some degree of experimentation, especially in the early years, as we try to figure out what models work best.”

The administration will likely integrate the new peer-mentor program into existing programs such as OIS, said Ann Kuhlman, director of International Student & Scholars. Kuhlman said she expects international peer mentors to contact their freshmen before they arrive on campus in the fall, or meet them in person in the freshmen’s home countries.

International students interviewed welcomed such changes, which they said could bolster the peer-advising resources that currently exist for international students.

After meeting upperclassmen and fellow freshmen at OIS, new international Elis have no institutional program to turn to as a way of fostering community among international students, said Alexandra Cavoulacos ’08, an international freshman counselor and former OIS counselor.

While peer support for international freshmen begins strong, it eventually “falls through,” she said of community mechanisms for international students.

Although Cavoulacos praised OIS, she said the University does not do enough to provide year-long advising for international students not of minority backgrounds.

“Non-minority international students easily fall through the cracks,” she said. “Some can have huge culture shock, and they don’t have ethnic counselors to turn to.”

Only five of the current freshman counselors are international students, noted Cavoulacos, and she is the only non-minority international freshman counselor this year. Still, she said there are many opportunities for fellowship among international students through the Yale’s International Students Organization.

Kuhlman noted the diversity of the international student population, adding that the University will need a “cohort” of peer advisors in order to address the needs of all international students.

Even international students who have been assigned ethnic counselors do not have anyone they can turn to for advice on issues of cultural acclimation, several students said. Ethnic counselors are not equipped to handle some of the specific needs of international students, they said.

“When it comes to adjusting to situations connected to my own country, I don’t think my ethnic counselor would understand,” said Darell Koh ’11, who hails from Malaysia. “You have to get into the cultural sphere of each country.”

Yelin Qiu ’11, who lives in China, said current peer mentoring for international students is inadequate.

“It’s not sufficient right now,” he said. “Yale is incorporating more and more international students … so counseling is very important.”

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