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NISO Peer Mentors Lend Support to OU’s New International Students

Monday, August 12th marked one of the most exciting days of the year for the OU College of International Studies: it was the day that the majority of the new fall class of international students arrived at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, where they were greeted by student volunteers and CIS staff, then traveled via shuttle to their new campus home. This arrival is in fact the second stage of what International Student Services calls NISO, or New International Student Orientation. The students previously completed an online orientation, and after their arrival on campus meet with a staff member in ISS to process arrival paperwork and review important information. Then comes the official welcome: Crimson Connection, a fun-filled orientation day in which students can meet, mingle and learn how to navigate life at the University of Oklahoma.

For the Crimson Connection event on August 14th, new international students were placed into small groups. Throughout the day, they participated in team-building activities, took a campus tour and attended information sessions held by various campus offices and resources. The goal of the event is to provide the students with the practical information they need to start the semester, help them manage culture shock and put them on the path to academic success. They also get the chance to bond with their peers.

Though Crimson Connection is organized and run by ISS staff, the lifeblood of the program is its student volunteers, the NISO Peer Mentors. These mentors are OU students who each lead their own small group, guiding their mentees throughout the days’ activities, answering their questions about academics and student life at OU and keeping in touch with them during the semester to offer support. “Peer mentors are new students’ lifeline for getting involved and getting to know the campus,” says Mary Beth Polk, Assistant Director for International Student Programs in CIS. “It’s a really rewarding program and I enjoy seeing it grow each semester.”

Each year, dozens of students sign up to be NISO Peer Mentors, and many return year after year. We checked in with a few of this year’s mentors, who explained why they chose to volunteer and what makes the Crimson Connection experience so special.

Peace Mojekwu

Year: Sophomore

Major: Accounting & Risk Management

From: Nigeria

Years as a Peer Mentor:1

Why I Volunteer: In my first few weeks at OU, I felt overwhelmed, and I was shy to ask questions; this made my living here a bit more complicated than it should have been. Life became more comfortable later on, and I've been doing great since then. However, with that experience in mind, I figured that being a NISO peer mentor was a way I could intentionally make myself available to assist the incoming students in settling into their new home, here at OU. As an international student, I know that one can feel lost and confused in the first weeks here. It is the desire to help make life easier for international students that motivated me to volunteer to become a NISO peer mentor.

Favorite aspect of the program: The most fun part for me was having to create a team chant and present it in front of the whole audience. I also think the important part of the orientation was the welcome speeches that revealed to the students how their presence here is vital for the survival of the OU community and is not just an index number. For example, the speeches of Dr. Jane Irungu and Dr. Jill Irvine — amongst other OU staff — encouraged students to join university conversations and reassured them that there are people here that care about them. What I like most about being a mentor: I love that I get to interact with people, assist in the best way possible, and be a part of the stories of incoming international students.

Lauren Linsey

Year: Junior

Major: Acting

From: Houston, TX

Years as a Peer Mentor: 2

Why I Volunteer: Initially, I wanted to get involved to meet new people and I thought that idea of getting to meet international students was really cool. My roommate had been a peer mentor before me, and getting to know her small group was one of the highlights of my semester.

Most helpful aspect of the program: I think splitting the incoming students up into small groups is the most helpful part. It’s really easy to feel lost and overwhelmed when you start at a new school, and I imagine it’s even worse when that new school is in a different country. By breaking them up and assigning the peer mentors, I think it gives them a person that they know they can go to if they need help or have any questions. It’s like having built-in friends.

What I like most about being a mentor: There are so many! Last semester, a few students told me that they were scared that they weren’t going to be welcome or wanted in America, but that because of NISO and their peer mentors, they felt at home. I think that is the ultimate goal of NISO and my favorite part. Being able to break down those barriers and really connect with so many people from different backgrounds and cultures is so special, and I’m really glad I get to be a part of that.

Taylor Huizenga

Year: 2nd-year master’s student

Major: City & Regional Planning

From: Dallas, TX

Years as a Peer Mentor: 6

Why I Volunteer: I continue to do it because I love meeting new international and exchange students during their first few days on campus! I love to introduce new students to all the great things that OU has to offer and share my favorite spots to eat, drink and hang out in Norman!

Most helpful aspect of the program: I think the most helpful part of orientation is the time we get to spend as a group answering questions students might have and walking around the campus together. It’s really helpful for students to ask specific questions to peer mentors about their experiences, likes and dislikes to get a better understanding of what’s to come during the semester.

What I like most about being a mentor: My favorite part about being a peer mentor is getting to know new students who are excited to learn about American culture and ready to try anything! I have loved my times as a peer mentor and being able to share my culture and my favorite things about the best university there is!

Vivek Vijay

Year: 2nd-year master’s student

Major: City & Regional Planning

From: India

Years as a Peer Mentor:1

Why I Volunteer: I volunteered because I loved the NISO programme when I came in last year and wanted to be a part of it.

Favorite aspect of the program: The most fun part is the cheering.What I like most about being a mentor: I love interacting with new people from all over the world and helping them to get along.

Elisheba Choppala

Major: Petroleum Engineering

From: Abu Dhabi, UAE

Years as a Peer Mentor: 1

Why I volunteer: This is my first year volunteering as a peer mentor. I remember in my freshman year when I had to go through it and I met many people from all around the world. I still keep in touch with my teammates and its honestly the best feeling in the world. You can also make friends from all around the world and sometimes one can end up traveling to their friends' respective home countries. It's a win-win situation.

Favorite aspect of the program: Definitely seeing all the teams come up with their team cheer and showing it off to everyone is fun for me. Also when the instructor for OU Emergency Preparedness asked all the Meteorology students in the hall to come up on stage and imitate a tornado and they all kept going around the in circles. It was hilarious. This aspect was also very helpful. It reminded me again of all the rules one should follow in times of an emergency.

What I like most about being a mentor: Mentorship is about nurturing the relationship. To be a guide to new international students is so rewarding to me because I get to show them all the tips and tricks of the university that I learned as my years went by at OU. It is also about maintaining that bond with my mentees and being there for them whenever I can.

With the help of their peer mentors and the wider OU community, we hope our new international students have a wonderful first semester at the University of Oklahoma! Applications to become a NISO Peer Mentor for the January program will open in October. To stay informed on other opportunities to connect with our international community, follow @oucis on Twitter or Facebook.

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