Source: Innovations in Education and Teaching International, Vol. 51, No. 3, 292–302, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The main focus of this research was to assess the impact of a mentoring scheme in facilitating integration amongst first-year international students who come from different ethnic, cultural, sociocultural and socio-economic backgrounds so that they become effective learners.
The research study was assessed using the four themes below:
(1) Mentors’ and mentees’ experiences in the institution/country.
(2) The support provided under the mentoring scheme, including the effectiveness of the scheme, the suitability of the mentor and training sessions provided to mentors.
(3) Segregation or marginalisation in the institution.
(4) Diversity as a common ground to allow new cultural bonds to be created among international students.
The research method used was focus group discussion.
The participants were eight mentors and 17 mentees from law school at Newcastle University, who participated in the mentoring scheme.
Two focus group meetings were held in the academic year – one in December 2008 and one in April 2009.
Generally, the responses documented from the mentees had been very positive, as all of them indicated benefitting from the mentoring scheme in facilitating integration into the curriculum and belonging to a community of students with similar concerns and interests.
Drawing from the four main themes, the findings indicated that international students suffer from acute disorientation in their new institution.
They find the new academic and social culture daunting.
Accordingly, the need to manage expectations becomes essential. The following records the lessons learned:
• International students are a diverse group of students coming from diverse backgrounds.
A mentoring scheme brings together a group of diverse students with potentially similar concerns and interests, but it is important to recognize that each student is an individual with his or her particular issues.
• The need to assess individual student experience is as important as the need to ensure successful integration into academic study.
For this reason, the scheme needs to be flexible.
The study reveals that, generally, the mentees found benefits in the scheme, in particular at the start of their first academic year.
• New international students feel isolated from other students, which contributes to their frustration and anxiety in the institution.
The unanimous response was that the need for a community of students who shared common concerns and interests overrode the concern of segregation from the rest of the student populace.
They identified with other international students and found it almost empowering to have that type of support from the beginning.
• The scheme now (after the pilot) encourages mentees to pick their choice of a mentor following an informal gathering with the appointed mentors.
The study reveals that although most mentees did not find the assigned mentors unsuitable, they nevertheless thought that having the option to choose their own mentor benefitted them in the course of the relationship.
• The scheme has now opened doors to other student mentors to participate in the scheme in order to encourage better integration into the new culture found in the institution.
However, to preserve the element of community within the international student cohort, a majority of the appointed mentors are international students.
• Mentees should be encouraged to speak to other mentors and to work together as a community when possible.
• Another feature of the scheme that has since changed is the flexibility of mentors meeting their mentees at their preferred times and at a preferred venue.
The weekly meeting sessions in an allocated room in the law school has thus been abandoned.
Although the scheme started as a pilot scheme in September 2008, it is now integrated into the curriculum.
The lessons learned from it together with many of the suggestions which emerged from the focus group discussions, are included in the current mentoring scheme.
The success of the mentoring scheme facilitated the transition of first-year international students, encouraged a sense of community and actually created a community amongst the international student cohort.
The indirect benefit of the mentoring scheme also saw the general percentage of passes in the first-year cohort increase and has reduced the percentage of drop-outs or transfers to other disciplines within the university.