International peer program proves cross-cultural interactions

International students at Emory now have the opportunity, through the Office of International Affairs, to be matched one-on-one with Emory students from the United States in a unique program. The International Peer Program, developed in December 1995 by Program Coordinator Cathy Byrd, allows students to develop friendships, learn about other cultures and establish a unique mentoring relationship with one another.

The idea for the program, which came from the Emory Council on International Affairs, stemmed from the consideration of various ways to stimulate increasing interaction between U.S. and international students. Byrd was asked to develop a peer mentoring program tailored to the Emory campus. She contacted divisions with distinctive international components, including business, nursing and public health. Based on her findings, Byrd developed a pilot program. One-on-one matches were announced in January, and the program has flourished since. Thirty-five pairs of students are participating in the program.

College freshman Kevin Lane, a Florida native, originally thought that he would be matched with a Spanish-speaking peer. Instead, he was matched with a physics graduate student named Hao Ni, who comes from a small town in China. Lane, however, was not disappointed with the match. "We get together every so often and talk about where we're from," Lane said. "Usually, it's informal. We have dinner or lunch, and we're planning to go to a Falcons game.

"We're learning about each other and our interests ... we're coming from a relationship where we can ask any question of each other, cultural or otherwise. In real life, you can be intimidated to ask," Lane said.

College freshman Angie Brown was matched with South Korea native and College junior Chi-un Chun. Brown cited finding time to meet as a difficulty in the relationship "because we're both so busy," but she enjoys discussing the similarities of the United States and South Korea with Chun. "We usually talk about once a week," Brown said. "Things people like in South Korea and the United States can be very similar, such as Japanese animation." Brown was surprised to learn that the Japanamation television series Ranma 1/2 is also popular in South Korea. While finding time to meet can be difficult, Brown said her learning experience about other cultures has been beneficial.

Yunhua Jia, a Ph.D. candidate in genetics and a native of China, spoke to match Sureka Bollepalli, a College student, once a week but "never met her in person" until the international peers gathered in the Faculty Dining Room on March 2. "We talk about our interests, where we live, our work, and what we do on the weekends," Jia said. "We can talk, meet together, go to lunch, the movies or baseball games."

Jia called Bollepalli "precise, very nice--she speaks very fast." Jia said the most important thing she hoped to gain from the mentoring relationship was a desire "to know about American culture and attitudes. I want to be knowledgeable about Americans, learn about things such as voting for president, sports, models and movie stars."

Outside of the individual meetings, the International Peer Program had a group meeting on April 21, a picnic at Piedmont Park. Byrd said the program has been successful and she hopes to continue it next year.

-- Danielle Service

Return to the May 6, 1996 contents page