Inaugural program will ease path of international students

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations | May 01, 2013

Image with caption: Cheryl Thompson, Ph.D., speaks to members of the UNMC Ambassadors Program.

Cheryl Thompson, Ph.D., speaks to members of the UNMC Ambassadors Program.

When next year's class of international students arrives at UNMC, they will find a new kind of greeting awaiting them.

Recently, roughly 30 students attended an orientation session for the inaugural year of UNMC's new Ambassadors Program, which will pair international students with student volunteers who will serve as mentors, guides and friends as the new students become acclimated to both UNMC and the United States.

Creating a foundation

"This program will be a foundation for years to come," said Ariel Burns, Ph.D., a graduate student in pharmacology and experimental neuroscience. "The goal is to help people."

Cheryl Thompson, Ph.D., led the discussion, showing two videos that explained the phenomena of culture shock before opening up for questions.

Sarbinaz Bekmuratova of the College of Public Health said that as an international student herself, she thought the new program could be valuable.

"I know the difficulties I've gone through," she said. "I want to ease their experience."

Bekmuratova expects to be paired with a student from the College of Public Health. With a common major and interest, "not only can I be a friend, I can be helpful professionally," she said.

Dr. Thompson's program showed that in 2000, the UNMC international community was 223, while in the 2011-12 school year, the number had jumped to 671. In 2012, 210 of the total population were students on F-1 or J-1 visas.

It's expected to go even higher, she said.

Increasing support

"Increasing support for international students is one of the key initiatives of 2013. The Ambassador Program, combined with the revised fall orientation for international students, will accelerate the ability of international students to adapt to life in Omaha and study at UNMC," she said.

Ambassadors are expected to meet with their respective match at least weekly for the first six weeks of class, during events such as coffee, lunch or social activities, both within UNMC and in Omaha. Dr. Thompson also suggested that volunteers invite their matched students to attend family holiday functions when possible and explain the meaning/purpose of the holiday.

The volunteer ambassadors will be paired with incoming students in May and June, Dr. Thompson said. Slots are full for the coming year.

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