Peer mentoring offers remedies for culture shock

Allegheny College’s International Education Office launched a new Culture 2 Culture Peer Mentoring Program in fall 2015. This program was created to help incoming international students adjust to the new standard of living at Allegheny and the program just completed its pilot semester.

The program is also intended to be beneficial for domestic students as they are given the opportunity to learn about a new culture. Lenee McCandless, international student adviser, was personally involved in a program like this at Slippery Rock University before initiating the idea here at Allegheny.

“It is typical for an academic institution to have this style of program for their international students,” McCandless said. “This is a sort of pilot program for us because we are not as large as other campuses.”

With the size of Allegheny potentially being an issue because of the decreased number of international students compared to that of larger universities, the cross cultural program received only 18 mentors and 33 mentees. In the end of the semester reflection, McCandless said that the program was successful, with it only needing a few revisions to the matching process.

“There weren’t a lot of guidelines. We kind of just were expected to reach out to them and kind of make a relationship with them and be a resource,” Sophie Dodge, ’18, said.

Dodge offered her help with trips around Meadville, hosting dinners for her mentees and helping with cultural adjustments. From having to go through the acclimation process herself without a mentor, Dodge felt like it would be a good opportunity to help others. Being personally involved from working with the International Office, Dodge joined the program shortly after learning about it.

“I think it would have been really helpful for me if I had someone to help me with that process,” Dodge said. “But also, I really wanted to learn about another culture. It’s an opportunity to help people, but you’re getting enjoyment out of it yourself.”

Kathryn Denning, ’16 learned about the program after McCandless had mentioned she was short on mentors for the program this last summer. Being interested in learning more about international culture, Denning took on two mentees for the fall 2015 semester.

“I thought it would be a cool opportunity,” Denning said. “I’ve never been abroad so I don’t really know much about international experiences, but I wanted to learn more.”

According to Denning, her time in the program went well and she is still friends with her two mentees. Denning was happy overall with the events and experiences she had with her group. Denning spoke about when she had passed by Diamond Park with her mentees and a Civil War reenactment was taking place.

“It was really interesting because they loved it,” said Denning. “Just seeing them experience that, that many American things in one day, it was pretty entertaining”.

For a few events mentors drove their mentees to Casey’s Ice Cream & Candies and hosted dinners with new cultural foods. Denning and her mentees simply explored Meadville by driving around, which Denning said was a culture shock to a few of the mentees. For some of them they walk most places in their home cultures.

One experience that stood out during the program was the Thanksgiving dinner event. The mentors taught and helped prepare a Thanksgiving meal for their mentees, most of whom had never had a Thanksgiving dinner before.

“It was just really cool to see them be so interested in an event that obviously isn’t a part of their own culture,” said Denning.

The experiences seemed to help bolster a good attitude towards the program. According to Denning, it was an experience most people need to have.

“It’s an enjoyable activity to get to know about different cultures,” said Denning. “It expands your worldview.”

With few or no international students joining Allegheny in the spring semester, few to no mentors are needed.

If you are interested in joining the Culture 2 Culture Peer Mentoring Program, email Lenee McCandless, or visit her office at Pelletier 247.