“I want my students to know that they can count on me”
Mentor program wants to facilitate the stay of International students at the university and offer them support for their integration in the academic, social and cultural world at UAB. Marta Bofill, journalism major, and Nerea Saba, English philology major, narrate their experience as mentors this year.
1. For how long have you been a Mentor?
Marta: since September.
Nerea: Since January.
2. What does it mean to be a Mentor?
M: I started on September without a clear idea about what it meant to be a Mentor. I signed in simply because I was nostalgic of my exchange program and wanted to live a second Erasmus experience, but this time in my own town. I thought it would be much less dynamic, that we would hardly meet up, that it would be only about administrative stuff; so never imagined that there would be that many activities and that we would end up being like a family. Honestly, I was surprised. I went on Erasmus to Denmark and had a Mentor there, but she did not pay any attention to me. That is why I decided I would not be that way as a Mentor; I wanted my students to know they can count on me if they need anything.
N: I signed up because my roommate took part on the program last year and I attended some of the activities, so this year I decided it was my turn. Like Marta, I also thought it would be more about paperwork, that we would act as a link between Erasmus students and the university; but in the end we organized so many activities, we have had meetings and have become a family. I couldn’t go on Erasmus, and that is why I decided to participate in Barcelona. Thanks to the Mentor program, I have met many international students.
3. How many students do you have to mentor? Where do they come from?
M: I had eight students on the first semester, and four on the second one: three Colombian boys and an Australian girl.
N: I had a boy and a girl from China, one girl from Iran, another one from Canada and one from Russia.
4. What languages do you use to communicate with them?
N: Some of them want to learn Spanish, because they are philology major, but with the others I use English.
M: I speak Spanish with them and I would like to teach them Catalan, but they never ask.
5. What kind of relationship do you stablish with the international students as a Mentor?
N: It depends on the students. There some who are independent and they only contact when they have a problem, but some others want to learn about the culture, meet up and get to know the lifestyle here. In my case, we went to have drinks with two girls, they came to my place and I thought them to cook tortilla de patatas and pa amb tomàquet.
M: I would say there are three kinds of international students: the first one is very insecure and needs someone who saves the day, only asks about administrative stuff and paperwork…
N: Once I was even asked what time it was.
M: You become a kind of lifesaver. This first kind of student only wants you then, and afterwards they don’t answer back. They completely disappear after the firsts days, because they never actually wanted to contact you in the first place. A second kind would be the ones that befriend you; they don’t actually need to be the students assigned to you, but the ones you meet at the activities and “adopt” because they want to get to know someone who puts them in contact with the local culture. Those really want to experience the local way of life and integrate.
6. How do you help international students?
N: We receive questions about how to get off a bus, or where to got to get good bravas; also about administrative paperwork at university or how to get to places.
M: I mainly get bureaucratic questions, and if they want to have fun we may even go get some drinks.
7. When does the Mentorship start?
M: before their arrival we make a first contact by email, mainly to calm them down and letting them know they have someone here they can ask questions to and who will make sure they will have no difficulties. Once they’re here we have the first personal meeting during the International Welcome Days.
N: At the beginning we make sure that they have a place to stay and they know how to get to the city from the airport.
8. Do you think that International Welcome Days are important?
M: Yes, I think so.
N: Yes, because they are also a great opportunity for them to meet people in their exact same situation. Last semester, on the first day of the IWD, they started to make groups, specially among those of the same nationality. They made a lot of friends.
M: I remember that on my Erasmus experience the International Welcome Days were a chance to meet people from all over the world, and that reassures you.
9. What Mentor activities have you enjoyed the most?
M: The calçotada. Many students – specially the Asian ones – were amazed by this tradition.
N: When we started to organize it we told international students we would go to a calçotada, and they didn’t really get what it was. We then explained that it was about eating onions, and they still didn’t get it.
M: We explained it was a Catalan tradition, we taught them how to eat calçots, they took plenty of pictures… It was an opportunity to make friends. They got to know each other better. Another activity that brought the group closer together was the trip to Montserrat on the first semester. Students learnt a lot about Catalan culture and it was a meeting point for those who wanted to do open-air activities.
10. Do you think that Mentor is a good opportunity to practice languages?
N: In my opinion it is, because I communicate in English with them.
M: It was for me too. Among Mentors we avoid English, but with international students you need to speak English. It’s like being on Erasmus all over again.
11. What would you say to students who are thinking about signing up as Mentors for next year?
N: I definitely recommend it. You can get ECTS and you not only meet international students, but also local students from different faculties with a shared interest on languages, traveling… In the end, all Mentors were a cohesive team as well.
M: I would recommend it based on two premises: you’ll begin to see Barcelona from another point of view, from the perspective of someone who has just arrived, and you’ll meet people from other faculties and enrich your own academic experience. Besides, we are all open-minded and so much fun.
N: We are very much alike, even though we come from different places. Activities are always a big success and we have a great time.
M: It is a necessary break from school life.
N: you can perfectly combine it with classes, and if you cannot attend an activity, we organized ourselves because we are many Mentors.