Exploring the role of mentors at Capilano University
Living in a foreign country with an unfamiliar culture and set of languages can be daunting. Both Jaswinder Singh, a second-year student from Ludhiana, India in the North American Business Management Applied Post-Baccalaureate (NABU) program, and first-year Business Administration student Harsha Sharma can attest to that. Singh started at Capilano University in Jan. 2016, and in September became a mentor for other international students, including Sharma, who began her studies in Jan. 2017.
The Centre for International Experience (CIE) created the Mentorship and Leadership Program in 2011 as a means of enhancing the academic experience of CapU’s international students. “I know universities have volunteer programs or they have certain things in place, but this leadership program I would say is unique to my experiences,” said International Outreach and Events Officer Saveena Saran, who has managed the program for the last year.
Seventy per cent of mentors are international students who have completed at least two terms of study at CapU and the remainder are domestic students. One of the qualities Saran looks for in mentors is empathy. She wants her mentors to be able to connect in a meaningful way with international students, show enthusiasm for the role and be willing to step outside of their comfort zones. She stressed that mentors may not have the leadership skills to begin with, but they are nurtured when students are thrust into positions where they have to speak publicly and plan and organize activities. “We do take on mentors that may not be that far along in their leadership skills or are just learning or just wanting to gain those skills, so we take on all ranges of skill sets as mentors and then work with them along the way,” she said.
“For me, the first thing I saw was that it’s very hard for international students when they arrive in Canada,” noted Singh. “They don’t know the bus route and bus stops and they don’t know how to use the Compass Card for the daily commute, so these are the basic challenges when they arrive here.” After completing two semesters of study at CapU, Singh was eager to give back to the community. Sharma is one of his mentees, and shares his background coming from Chandigarh, India herself. She enthusiastically explained that their similarities have fostered a close friendship. “No [matter] how strong you think yourself to be, ultimately you land up being homesick,” she said. Singh was the first person she met at CapU, and every time she had a nagging question, whether it was about finding accommodation or making new friends, he was there to help her.
Depending on the individual student’s needs, Singh will spend varying amounts of time in contact with his mentees. He looks out for three to five students, and when he met with his group, he quickly figured out which students would rely on him more than others. Some students have experience living away from home and will just want to meet their mentor while others will take advantage of having a guide in their first few weeks or months getting to know the city of Vancouver.
Singh explained that he was more uncomfortable in his first semester at CapU because he didn’t have the guidance of a mentor. He had a few mixed feelings about his new environment, but was calling it home after not too long. Sharma is hoping to follow in his footsteps and become a mentor in the fall of 2017. “My first day, the orientation was a great inspiration, you know seeing the panel of all the mentors introducing themselves and sharing their experiences, their passions about making the international student life more fun,” she said. “This is the same feeling that I received on my orientation day,” Singh agreed. “It was in the Blueshore [Centre] and everyone was in orange t-shirts and I thought, ‘I want to be there.”
Saran conducts interviews with students interested in becoming mentors to get a sense of their commitment. “I feel like I’m a coach at tryouts,” she joked. “That’s the interview process, and then [I provide] training and support.” Between 30 and 40 mentors remain committed for an academic year and provide support to the ever-increasing population of international students, which consisted of over 600 students from 45 countries at the start of the 2016 academic year. This spring, over 200 new international students enrolled.
Mentors receive their training on two separate days. On the first day of training, they are divided into teams and taught how to work together. They receive instruction in individual subject areas such as project management and event planning. They will be responsible for planning two events as a group and assigned three to five mentees each. Some of the events described are transitional experiences while others are cultural or volunteer experiences.
Each year, they assist with International Education Week and host an Experience Fair where students showcase the myraid of cultures students bring to CapU. Some of the cultural events include pumpkin carving in the Birch Cafeteria as an example of a Canadian tradition showcased through the spirit of Halloween, and the Holi World of Colours Festival, which was held in the Cedar Courtyard in early March. Sharma indicated that she particularly enjoyed the Holi Festival because it reminded her of home. “You’re away from home but you have people trying to connect with you,” she said. “I’m glad I was a part of it.”
The CIE is currently looking for applicants to become mentors for the 2017-2018 academic year. The deadline to apply is May 1.
Campus Life Editor
Community Relations Manager
Arts and Culture Editor