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Welcome to the Mentor Learning Center

Mentoring an International Student

This article helps build mentors' understanding of the unique challenges that their international mentee may face. Use this information to gain awareness of the issues, and visit resources provided.

Language & Culture

Your mentee may be going through a bit of culture shock (the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes) as they learn a new language, new foods, new ways of interacting with peers, new slang, new music, new places, new clothes, new technology, new sense of humor, new movies, and new ways of acting. Your mentee is learning all of these new modes of doing implicitly and explicitly every day they're here. It's overhelming to find oneself in a new school, a new city, and a new country. So as a mentor, you can be there to answer any questions they may have, clarify any cultural misunderstandings, and be a source of confidence for them. Most importantly, having an open mind and sense of humor to learning new cultural norms can go a long way with your mentee having a strong sense of self as they navigate their way through the college process.

American Classes

New types of assignments

Your mentee may be accustomed to certain standards, methods, or formats in which to complete their schoolwork. This can range from how to cite a paper, a grading rubric, new study habits, grammatical nuances between British and American English, collaborative group projects, and learning styles. Your mentee may get intimidated, frustrated, scared by all these new formalities in their learning that, as a mentor, you can help guide them when something new and unknown comes up.

New types of subjects

Your mentee may find themselves having to pick classes they've never heard of or had a chance to take before. They might be exposed to a variety of subjects, and it may overwhelm them. Classes such as meteorology, 3D rendering, and drama my make them feel anxious about taking the "right" classes. As a mentor, you can help motivate them that they should follow their interests when it comes to electives. It also may be a great way to expose them to various professions as they begin to think about their college pathway.

New types of teachers and teaching styles

Your mentor may be exposed to different ways of learning they've never experienced before. For instance, they may have never played quiz games to prepare for a test, role played a book's plot in English class, or had a group project before. All these new methods of learning information may overwhelm them as they navigate a new school, new country, and a new life. You can help reassure them that with time it will get easier, and to not give up.

American College Process

Your mentee might have come from a country where college and the process to apply looks incredibly different. Anything from age of enrollment, length of study, credentials earned, and career pathways can all vary. We help you as a mentor guide your mentee through all the logistical steps of college search, application, enrollment, and persistence. Moreover, the college application process can be a very stressful time in any high schooler's life, so you're there to help them through this time.

For guidance on the financial aid process for international students, click here.

Other Challenges

  • Having additional family responsibility. Some international students may be the person in the household who speaks the most English, and can often act as the translator for major doctor and lawyer appointments. Moreover, they may be tasked as caretaker for younger family members while the adults work. 
  • Documentation. Some international students are undocumented, and/or their parents or other family members  undocumented.
  • Having a job while in school. Some international students may need to bring in extra income for the family, or need to work because they came as an unaccompanied minor and they do not have anyone in the country to provide for them.
  • Family separation. Some international students come to the US to live with a parent who left home country when they were young. Students can feel anxiety from being separated from relatives in their home country and need to get reacquainted with relatives they are living with in the US. 
  • Being an unaccompanied minor. Some international students come to the US by themselves and live with estranged family members. They may be dealing with documentation issues and need to provide food and housing for themselves in addition to succeeding in school.

Mentor Tips

  • Have your mentee reach out to other international students for support and guidance.
  • Plan an Out of Program (OOP) meeting to a major landmark or to experience something “American." Some international students find comfort in their immediate neighborhood, and rarely leave. Taking them out of their neighborhood may help them improve their English (if they're working on it), and expose them to American culture which will help them understand their school culture, school work, and the college experience.
  • Refrain from stereotyping international students as all having difficulties with English.
  • Reassure your mentee that managing both schoolwork and a social life can be tough in the first few weeks (or even months, and semesters). Have them keep in mind that that is totally normal.
  • Encourage your mentee to join clubs and activities. They are the best way to meet new people who share their passions.
  • Remember that your mentee will get homesick or miss aspects of their country. You can use this as a opportunity to find foods, music, movies that you two can share in, as well as your mentee teaching you something new, too.