Language program administrator
Annette Benson long has loved learning about the world one person at a time. As language program administrator for Housing and Food Services for the past eight years, she has taken a slow journey around the globe through her interactions with Purdue students from more than 80 different countries.
Benson is responsible for coordinating the English for Speakers of Other Languages Program (ESOL), which provides ESL services to Purdue and Lafayette residents. She also is the advisor for UR Global, a student organization that pairs new international students with peer mentors. Since the program's inception in 2009, UR Global has become a significant resource for hundreds of undergraduates.
What is UR Global?
UR Global is a student organization that pairs returning student mentors with new international student mentees. Mentor and mentee establish email contact before school starts and then meet throughout the year at various programs. Mentors serve as a base contact for their mentees, answering questions from how to pack for long Indiana winters to what to expect in large lecture-type classes.
This year, the UR Global program also will be partnering with the Student Access, Transition and Success Programs (SATS) and International Students and Scholars (ISS) offices to provide an international orientation prior to Boiler Gold Rush. Once moved into their permanent campus residences, mentors and mentees meet regularly to share their cultures, to ask questions about the American culture without fear of ridicule and to learn about topics that lead to better student success.
How do you determine mentor-mentee pairs?
I send everyone interested in the program a questionnaire in early June, asking him or her to identify multiple interests, home country, language spoken and intended major. Once I receive answers, I begin to match students based on their assigned residence halls, which facilities meetings between them, and then based on their responses. The matching part is hard, because trying to pinpoint individuals based solely on a few key interests and major really doesn't help identify whom they will connect with most.
What it really comes down to is making sure both parties know this is a community-building organization. We're not guaranteeing that their GPA will go up or that they'll make a new best friend. Instead, we're providing them with a contact that they can reach out to, who will be able to point them in the appropriate direction.
What do students gain from being a part of UR Global?
The mentees gain a valuable contact to help in their transition. Meeting their mentor may be the first substantial interaction they have with someone in the United States and we try to ensure it's a positive experience from start to finish.
UR Global helps student mentors learn how to have a professional relationship with a peer. Every day, people work with colleagues from other backgrounds or cultures that they didn't choose to work with. In the modern global economy, it is vital to learn how to work with people cross-culturally, to value other cultures and other ways of thinking. UR Global mentoring provides a miniature laboratory for learning the professional behaviors needed to bring a newcomer along in an organization while maximizing productivity. It would be great if all the mentors became friends with their mentees, but if they don't, they profit from interacting with and helping someone of a completely different background.
How have mentors and mentees responded to the UR Global experience?
UR Global is a place where no one country is in the majority, so no one cultural perspective prevails.
As an international mentee put it, "Purdue can be a very big place, but UR Global gave me a place to feel that I was home." And as an American business student said, "UR Global caused me to realize that the American way is not always the only way or the best way."
Where do you see the program going in the future?
In 2010, Purdue surpassed 7,000 international students on campus. In a student body of 38,000, it's possible that one of every five or six people you meet is from another country.
In UR Global's inaugural year, there were 29 mentees and 21 mentors. In 2010, we skyrocketed to 600 applicants total. This tells us that there is definitely a need in the student population. I'm fortunate enough to work for a division that sees this need and recognizes that we can meet it. University Residences realizes that students have more needs than just food and housing on the residential side of campus life and UR Global is here to foster international communities.