Building a Home Away from Home for International Students: the International Student Mentor Program (ISMP)

International student mentors greet new students on Move-In Day (Source: Pomona archives)
International student mentors greet new students on Move-In Day (Source: Pomona archives)

For prospective incoming international students, studying abroad in another part of the world in just a few months can feel like quite an adventure — thrilling, mysterious, and nerve-racking all at once.

At Pomona College, students are constantly seeking ways to help each other to feel at home while we study and live in a home away from our “real” homes. The International Student Mentor Program (ISMP), as an example of a support system led by students, is an organization that helps incoming international students adjust to life in the United States.

ISMP aims to foster a supportive community of international students at Pomona through organizing activities, discussions, and events — including weekly dinners, weekend retreats to the College’s Halona cabin in Idyllwild, discussions on what it is like to “study abroad in the U.S.A”, karaoke nights, etc. — that are geared towards fulfilling international students’ needs.

Prior to orientation, incoming international students are assigned with mentors upon whom they can rely to answer their questions, introduce them to life at Pomona, and provide academic, emotional and social support on campus and beyond. ISMP mentors are returning international students who are familiar with international issues, and are enthusiastic about befriending and helping to support incoming international students.

There are currently 24 ISMP student mentors. This year’s head mentors are Chihiro Tamefusa ’16, Helene Ries ’16, and Saad Nadeem ’17.

Tamefusa reflects on her experience of arriving on campus as one of the two Japanese students in her class, “To be honest, I felt a bit lonely at first. I couldn’t talk to many people about what kind of music is popular back home, what TV shows I like to watch, or even speak in my own language.”

On the second day of the international students’ orientation, however, Tamefusa noticed that coming from the same culture did not really matter, “Everyone I talked to were really fascinated about Japan and they said they wanted to know more. This gave me confidence to talk about my culture in my sponsor group as well.”

Having been in a foreign country without any acquaintance for the first time herself, Ries knows that a mentor who has a foreign perspective on college is a “useful resource able to understand and address many questions that international students have”.

“The purpose of ISMP is to ensure that incoming freshmen have the smoothest transition to college in a foreign country. It’s a diverse community with a multiplicity of views and it exists to ensure that all your questions and concerns are answered.” Comments Nadeem, “We’ll try our best to provide you with a home at Pomona and we can’t wait to meet all of you!”

ISMP serves students of all nationalities outside of the U.S., as well as to American citizens that have lived a substantial part of their lives overseas.