The International Centre at UTM piloted a peer support program for first-year international students in January to help them transition into Canadian lifestyle and culture.
The peer program, known as “internationalLIFE”, is facilitated by peer leaders who are themselves international students, and focusses on life skills, social transition, conversational English, and one-on-one mentoring.
The program complements other peer programs on campus, like rezONE and genONE, to provide a support network for first-year international students without family and friends in Canada, said Joanna Mackie, the international student development officer at the IC.
“All students face a shock when they come to university. International students deal with a more profound series of shocks, because not only are the expectations from high school to university different, you may be away from your family for the first time, or your home country,” said Mackie in an interview.
Every first-year international student is put in one of 11 international cohorts under a peer leader. The leaders hold workshops to assist students in developing life skills, social events to help students build networks and relationships, English conversation sessions to help overcome language barriers, and one-on-one mentoring to address individual needs.
“It’s not necessarily the content of these experiences that will attract students, but the relationships that they will form and are forming that will encourage them to come out,” said Mackie. “Even for those students that are perhaps less inclined to participate in the workshops and activities, at the very least they have the name of the peer international leader. They have a name of somebody they can approach and say, ‘I’m overwhelmed. I’m experiencing this issue and have no idea how to deal with it.’ ”
The program is intended to familiarize international students with campus resources related to their careers, health, and other aspects of university life to help them have a more meaningful university experience, said Mackie.
The IC provides advising, transition services, and programs for both international and internationally-minded students at UTM, according to their website, and is part of the Office of Student Affairs at UTM.