(Tahlequah, Okla.)--For international students attending Northeastern State University, adjusting to a new country, culture and academic institution can be exciting, yet challenging.
To help students from abroad deal with language barriers and cultural differences and to help them establish social contacts, the NSU Office of International Programs created the international Be a Buddy program. In its second year, the Buddy program is helpful for international students and popular with volunteers.
“I’m really glad to have a friend here,” said Barbora Jirickova, a freshman tennis player from Jablonec Nad Nisou, Czech Republic. “I didn’t expect that we would become such good friends. I really appreciate everything about the program.”
Jirickova’s student buddy is Sinea Ryan of Tahlequah. Ryan said her motivations for joining Be a Buddy mirror those of most program volunteers.
“Firstly, I want to be there to help Barbora make the transition to campus life and ensure that she enjoys her time here at NSU,” Ryan said. “Secondly, this is a wonderful chance to learn about someone else’s country and culture.”
Each new international student choosing to participate in the program is assigned a student volunteer who has been at NSU for at least a year. The buddy serves as a friend and mentor and contacts the international student regularly to answer questions and assist with concerns regarding campus and community life.
“After the initial pairing we try to leave everything in their hands as much as possible,” said Angelika Copp, office manager for international programs. “We want them to decide how often they should be in contact. We will send some e-mail correspondence to ask if everything is OK. We want to make sure the volunteer is contacting the international student and that the student feels comfortable asking questions of the volunteer. So far this term we haven’t heard any complaints.”
Danielle Morgan, a senior from Bridge Creek, is a second-year Be a Buddy volunteer. She spent the spring 2011 term at Swansea University in Wales, United Kingdom, as a Brad Henry International Scholar and is now buddy to Sara Trott, an NSU tennis player from the U.K.
“Getting to know Sara is really fun for me because I’m able to sort of relive my time abroad,” Morgan said. “I’m able to share experiences that she understands. Having an international buddy helps me to gain a full perspective on our world – and even our community – by listening to her ideas and experiences.”
Copp said the list of student volunteers for Be a Buddy outweighs the roll of international students in the program. For the fall term 17 international students participated, and about 10 more pairings are anticipated for the spring.
“We still encourage students to submit their paperwork so they can be placed on a waiting list,” Copp said. “All feedback we’ve received indicates Be a Buddy is beneficial to both sides. The fact that so many students return to volunteer shows that their time with these students really means something.”
The task of transition is greatly eased with Ryan’s assistance, Jirickova said.
“I had always wanted to go to America, but I was surprised by NSU,” she said. “The system and teachers are different from back home. Sinea and I are both from small towns and talking with her is quickly helping my English. I think I’m learning more from her than she is from me.”
Ryan disagreed to some extent with Jirickova’s assessment of their Be a Buddy relationship, saying Jirickova had offered perspectives “I never would have even thought of.”
“Our hometowns may be far away from each other, but we are a lot alike in so many ways,” Ryan said. “And her English is very good. I was a little worried I might be paired with someone just learning the language and we would communicate with hand gestures. Barbora and I converse very well.”
Morgan said she is still friends with her buddy from last year and that she is squeezing time in with Trott.
“We have both been very busy because she is in tennis and I am taking all upper-level courses this semester,” Morgan said. “We did go to Iguana for coffee and girl-talk though, which was – as expected – quite fabulous.”
Published: 9/28/2011 2:18:33 PM