International buddy program to premiere this fall

A new buddy program will be open to students this semester looking to bridge the gap between cultures and create international friendships.

The Mason Compatriots Program works by matching domestic students with international students based on shared hobbies and interests.

“We ask for basic information about the [students and then] use this information to match them with a buddy. We send an email to the buddy ‘match’ to introduce them to each other, and they then correspond to decide when and for what they’ll meet up,” said Mary Wells, assistant director for Internationalization for the Office of International Programs and Services.

Sophomore Danielle Melton, who participated in Compatriots’ trial run last fall, said the program starts by introducing the buddies through email. After that, interactions are left for the two students to decide.

“The program fostered some events in order to try to get buddies to meet. [They] suggested things like going to basketball games or to [the] cafe [in] Sub 1. Me and my buddy often met up for lunch on campus or spent a Saturday in downtown Fairfax just talking,” she said.

Graduate and undergraduate students can apply to the program through an online application available on the Mason International website under Global Connections.

The concept for Compatriots was drawn from similar programs at other universities, Wells said. She created a model of the program by talking to colleagues from other campuses and then tailored it for the Mason community.

“Mason Compatriots is not a tutoring or language practice program; it’s a program for making new friends, socializing, sharing common interests, and learning new things about your buddy and yourself along the way,” Wells said.

Melton said she got involved because of her interest in international affairs, cultures and languages.

“I think that this program is a great way for international students to become a part of campus life and become more involved at Mason. My buddy from last semester taught me a lot about Korean culture and her perceptions of America,” Melton said.

Judith A. vanBever-Green, executive director for the Office of International Programs and Services who helps run Mason Compatriots, added via email that the program was also inspired by domestic students’ desire to better interact with international students.

“When I ask students, ‘what made you choose Mason?’ they often reply that our diverse student body was a major attraction. Yet students also tell us that they are not sure how to engage with their classmates, especially those who are unlike themselves,” said vanBever-Green. “This program gives students a way to engage with and learn about others [and] strengthens our community as a whole.”

A trial run of the program was administered in the 2015 spring semester. Due to the pilot’s success, directors chose to continue the Compatriots program this fall. Wells said the pilot’s purpose was to pinpoint challenges and make improvements.

“One thing I didn’t expect was that some of the participants didn’t respond after being contacted by their buddy. For this fall, I’ll send a follow-up to the buddies sooner to ensure that they’ve been in touch with each other,” Wells said.

Another insight Wells gained from the pilot was that participants who had spent time with a group of students including their buddy (in addition to one-on-one time with their buddy) reported a higher level of satisfaction with the program. This prompted directors to promote group interactions among participants.

Wells added that second and third matches were offered to participants, which gave international students the chance to meet more people.

Beyond these small improvements, Wells continued, there will be few differences in how the Compatriots program is run this fall.

Both Wells and vanBever-Green agree that Compatriots will have a positive impact on the Mason community.

“This program will help our students feel more connected as a community, and give students a better understanding of and personal experiences with the vast diversity represented on this campus,” Wells said.

VanBever-Green added that this program is a chance for students to experience different cultures and develop international friendships.

“Compatriots is a great way to make friends and expand horizons,” Melton said. “Compatriots is another dimension outside of class that contributes to global understanding. I would really recommend it, especially to people who are interested in culture.”

Wells added, “We chose the name Compatriots because we wanted to emphasize that all Mason students are part of Mason Nation together, regardless of which countries they’re from.”