Beginning this quarter, UCSB’s Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) has created The Global Ambassador Program, which is meant to help incoming international students adjust to life and culture at UCSB.
The program is designed to offer incoming international students the support they need to create the best transition into this new environment, and OISS plans on doing this by having new students build relationships with mentors. Ashley Rifkin, the coordinator of the program, mentioned in an interview with The Bottom Line (TBL) that the mentors offer their mentees a “base” by helping them “to get to know people, to get to know resources on campus.”
According to OISS, the program currently has 133 enrolled participants. The program originally planned to accept applications year-round, but since OISS received more mentor applications than mentees, this quarter they’re only accepting mentor applications in the fall and spring.
For most international students, culture shock is often an unexpected experience that they have to go through — what Rifkin calls the “period of transition.” Students have to adjust to a non-native language, a new culture, a huge distance from family, making friends in a new environment, as well as being enrolled in their classes.
“Coming to study in the US has made my college and future life change a lot. At first, I tried to assimilate to US culture by actively talking to people. I also had to get used to the language, because even if I talk English, it was was still creating some difficulties that I had to overcome and that I was not expecting,” said Ashley Chou in an interview with TBL. Chou is an incoming pre-economics and accounting first year from Taiwan.
For Chou, the language barrier hasn’t been the only difficulty that she’s had to deal with while coming to the United States.
“I also had to get used to how American teenagers live their lives. I didn’t realize that our students’ habits and cultures would differ as much as that, and the gap between how it is in my country and here made it at first really difficult to live,” said Chou.
Mentors can provide a strong guidance to students and become the “point people” that international students may need. For example, they’re able to provide information about the resources available at UCSB that can help international students improve their academic and social life.
“They can share their academic and social insights as well as their familiarity with the various campus services available to students (student health, academic, professional, counseling, etc.,)” said Rifkin.
The program aims to put students in small groups: two mentors and two to three mentees who will meet quarterly. This group functions as a way to enable students to feel free and comfortable about their involvement.
Students will also meet twice throughout the quarter for events sponsored by OISS, and at least once with their group.
“[The program is meant to be a] casual and friendly framework for connecting people, sharing cultures and exchanging world views,” said Rifkin.
The program emphasizes the idea of blending cultures by mixing students from different countries in each group, so students can overcome cultural gaps and have a more enriching experience from UCSB.
“I have finally realized, thanks to the different meetings with both American and international students, that I should appreciate and be more curious about how people worldwide have these chances to get to meet each other,” concluded Chou.
This cultural enrichment not only benefits mentees, but also mentors. With the building of these small mixed cultural groups, mentors are able to learn about different cultures, and learn about foreign ideas while staying on campus.
The Global Ambassador Program has found its roots at UCSB this year, supporting international students and promoting cultural blending on campus. It is a way for both mentors and mentees to create links and to build skills in a culture sharing space. OISS hopes to continue to build and to expand it in future years.
Although the application for this quarter is now closed, OISS encourages all majors’ applicants to apply next quarter to be part of this experience.
Links to apply for The Global Ambassador Program: