Sumaiya Akter knows the benefits of connection in a new place.
Being on her own in a new country without family or friends during her first year, the second-year master of economics student is now a mentor with the MUN Mentors program through the Internationalization Office (IO).
“When I came to Newfoundland and Labrador, it was the first time I had been away from my family for such a long period of time,” said Ms. Akter. “I struggled with being in a new place without familiar connections.”
Determined to feel more settled in her new home, she started volunteering with the Connector Program in the IO in fall 2019. It was there that she learned about the MUN Mentors Program.
“Knowing how powerful connecting with others and community has been for me, I decided I wanted to give back and become a mentor to help new students so they don’t suffer from the loneliness and frustration I felt in my first year.”
The MUN Mentors program is a peer mentorship program that connects new international students with current Memorial international students throughout their first semester at the university.
The role of the mentor is to introduce the new students to Memorial and help them get involved in the campus community, learn about the supports and services available to them on campus and develop effective study habits.
Most of all though, the program provides them with an instant, friendly connection around campus and in St. John’s. This term, it provides them with that connection virtually.
“Folks are connecting with each other from different parts of the world.”
Co-ordinator Dayna Vey says even though this semester is remote and most of the mentees are not physically in Newfoundland and Labrador, or even Canada, it hasn’t stopped them from carrying out their mandate.
“We have a large number of mentors and mentees this year,” said Ms. Vey. “We recruit throughout the year for mentors and mentees and match them at the beginning of the fall and winter semesters.”
Ms. Vey says that while this particular semester is challenging, in many ways, the immersion of the program is almost greater for students being in their home country rather than in person in St. John’s.
“When mentees are here, the program is more about orienting them with the physical and social environment of Newfoundland and Labrador and getting them familiar with where things are on campus,” said Ms. Vey. “Now there is more of a balanced cultural exchange happening as folks are connecting with each other from different parts of the world.”
Available to all first-year international students
In order to become a mentor, students must be beyond their first semester of study at Memorial, be in good academic standing, be familiar with Memorial’s St. John’s campus and campus supports, and be able to meet virtually with a mentee approximately once every two weeks during their first semester.
All new, first-year international students registered at the St. John’s campus are able to apply for a mentor before they begin their first semester.
“We talk about food, life adventures and more.”
Ms. Akter has been a mentor since January of this year and currently has mentees from Cameroon, Nigeria and Bangladesh.
She says the program is an excellent opportunity for people to learn about other people’s countries, cultures, weather, food and more.
“We can learn about these other countries and cultures from Google or see videos on YouTube, but talking to actual people and having an interactive discussion, that’s different. We talk about food, life adventures and more.”
Though her mentees aren’t in Newfoundland and Labrador just yet, it hasn’t stopped them from making in-person plans already.
“We have started planning visits to places like Gros Morne National Park. The mentoring experience has been so rewarding for me. I will continue to be a mentor for as long as I can.”
If you are interested in applying to be a mentor, questions regarding the MUN Mentors program may be directed to Dayna Vey.