Felipe Chiriboga: GW can support international students through a mentorship program

This Alumni Weekend, there are plenty of events for alumni to attend — everything from a run with GW’s cross country team to a community service reception to a concert with Janelle Monáe. But on the weekend’s itinerary, you won’t find any events focused on international students and alumni.

It seems unfair that there isn’t an event specifically for international students and alumni this weekend, especially given how valuable an international alumni network can be. At Commencement, students are told they are now a part of a “lifelong and worldwide community of alumni.” That’s why the University should work year-round to connect international students to international alumni through a mentorship program.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said the Office of Alumni relations invites international students to alumni events both abroad and within the U.S. She also highlighted several events like an annual networking event and a celebratory dinner with alumni following Commencement. But some international students need more individualized attention.

For international students, adjusting to college can be understandably more difficult than for those moving to D.C. from other states. Not only do they have to adjust to academics at GW, but they have to grow accustomed to a new culture and, sometimes, a new language. A mentorship program would be extremely useful for international incoming freshmen who would like some advice on this adjustment.

When I first moved to GW from Ecuador — as the first from my family to study in the U.S. — I was overwhelmed by all the activities, clubs, organizations and events that took place on campus and in D.C. I didn’t really know what I was looking for in my college experience, which made me afraid of missing out. I eventually figured out what interests and passions I wanted to pursue, but I would’ve very much appreciated a mentor who could have helped me sort things out sooner.

And since the University has pledged to double its population of international students by 2023, this program would be especially important to making sure that larger group feels like they are part of the GW community.

International upperclassmen — or even graduate students — would also benefit from career advice. Professionally, the mentorship program would allow international students to learn about the experiences international alumni had while they searched for jobs in the U.S. Or, international students could learn about overseas internships or job opportunities.

As an international student at GW, I think it would be useful for incoming and current foreign students to use international alumni as an additional source of information. For example, I would love the opportunity to talk to Latino alumni who work in the financial sector in the U.S. and inquire about the job application process, work visas and their personal experiences working in America. Although much of this information may be found online, it would still be useful to learn from international alumni about their personal experiences and points of view.

The program could also keep international students connected to GW after they graduate – if they benefitted from the mentorship program as students, then they could join in as alumni.

The program would benefit alumni as well, and keep alumni who live abroad connected to campus. And if they remember struggling to adjust to life at GW during their time as students, committing to the mentorship program would be one way for them to ensure others don’t feel the same way.

And besides creating a stronger and more engaged alumni community, the program could convince international alumni to give back to GW and continue the program’s success — a win-win.

We have international alumni all around the globe doing amazing things. It would be great for GW to connect its growing community of international students with global opportunities — and in the process, learn from the people who have been in their shoes.

Felipe Chiriboga, a junior double-majoring in economics and philosophy, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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