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Why does mentorship matter for international student success?

interstride logo by Interstride
October 13, 2023

Being an international student means navigating an unfamiliar place, a new education system, and a completely different way of life. If you are new to the US, having someone more familiar with the culture and language to support you through the process can make a huge difference in your transition.

Mentorships can help you at any stage whether you’re an unsure prospective student, a current student struggling academically, or an alumni navigating the job market in the US. Mentorship is also an excellent way to connect with older international students, faculty, or domestic students who are eager to share their knowledge and wisdom, helping you to grow and build your social capital.

What is mentoring?

Mentoring is a relationship between two people – a mentor and a mentee. The role of the mentor is to support the mentee and guide them toward personal, academic, and/or professional growth. In the US, mentorship is common in workplaces, schools, and community organizations. Mentoring relationships can be formal or informal, short-term or long-term. Mentors are sometimes called coaches or advisors, but an advisor or coach is not always a mentor. Mentorship implies a high level of commitment to the relationship. It’s about actively seeking out the guidance of someone else to help drive your own growth.

Key aspects of mentoring:

  • Knowledge sharing
  • Sharing personal experiences as lessons
  • Advice
  • Constructive feedback
  • Networking

Mentorship is beneficial to both the mentee and the mentor. The mentee gains new insights, knowledge, and personalized guidance. The mentor gains leadership experience and connection. Having a mentor is especially valuable for international students because they are navigating an unfamiliar culture, academic environment, and job market. Most often, you will learn faster with the help of a mentor than you would on your own.

Types of mentoring

There are many different types of mentoring. Here are the three most common ones:

Type of mentoring:What is it?
Traditional one-on-one mentoringTraditional mentoring is done by someone older and/or more experienced than you.
Peer mentoringOne-on-one mentoring with someone who is at a similar age and/or experience level as you
Group mentoringThis style involves one mentor working with multiple mentees in a group setting.

Where can international students find mentors?

The first place to look for a mentor is at your network because these are people you already have a connection with. Newly arrived international students who do not know anyone in the US yet may benefit from joining a formal mentorship program. Many schools, professional organizations, and workplaces have official mentorship programs where they pair you with a mentor who they think will be a good match for you. You can also join social groups on and off campus to start building their personal networks and potentially find a mentor.

Looking for online mentorship? Through partnerships with companies like Interstride, some schools provide online spaces for students to find mentors who will be a good fit for them such as international alumni in their field of study.

Examples of good potential mentors:

  • A professor who has shown you that they care about your personal and academic growth
  • An older international student with the same major as you who is in your elective class this semester
  • Your counselor at school who you have been meeting with weekly for several months already
  • An older coworker at your internship who asked you what your long term and short term goals where
  • Someone in the same professional organization as you who you’ve chatted with several times at conferences

Benefits of mentorship for international students

To highlight the importance of mentorship for international students, we have compiled a list of the top benefits of having a mentor.

1. Helps you at different stages

No matter what stage of college or job hunting you are at, there is value in getting a mentor.  For example, a mentor can advise you on what elective courses to take in your first year of college. They can help you set long-term goals and stay on track to reach them. When it’s time to apply for jobs, a mentor can provide a meaningful recommendation for you. As you transition into the workforce, a mentor can provide insight into workplace culture in the industry.

2. Helps you get acclimated to a new environment

For an international student, adjusting to American culture and a complex university system can be overwhelming. Having a mentor at the beginning of your journey to the US can make a big difference in getting settled and feeling like you belong. Your mentor can help you gain more intercultural competency and cross-cultural communication skills so that you can thrive in the US. A mentor can also:

  • Introduce you to potential new friends
  • Recommend the best restaurants in town
  • Provide insight into the academic expectations of specific professors
  • Practice speaking the regional English vernacular with you

3. Improves job readiness

Mentorship is an excellent opportunity to learn from experienced professionals in your field of interest. A mentor who is working in your desired industry can provide valuable information and skills to prepare you for your career. This is an excellent way to supplement your university coursework. Your mentor can provide job search advice and help you edit your resume and cover letter or practice for your job interviews. Mentorship can even help international students develop stronger leadership skills. If the mentor was an international student themselves, they could provide insight into how to talk about visa sponsorship with a potential employer.

4. Builds a strong network

A first-year international student may not know anyone in the US yet. A mentor can be an important person in your growing network. In the US, up to 80% of people get their jobs through connections or referrals, so your network matters. We have an old saying here, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know”. Having a well-connected mentor can make a huge difference for you when it’s time to start job hunting. They may be able to introduce you to employers who are interested in sponsoring international talent after graduation. Even if they don’t know someone directly, they can use their network to help you connect to the right people.

5. Nurtures personal growth

A mentorship is a personal relationship. A good mentor may provide appropriate emotional and social support in addition to academic and/or professional support. This could include listening empathetically and giving advice if you’re stressed about an upcoming exam or having difficulty working with others in class. Someone who has been in the US longer than you could help you understand cultural miscommunications. Your mentor can also hold you accountable for reaching your personal and professional goals. There is no list of things you must achieve with your mentor; your goals depend on what you want to work on.

6. Builds confidence

Research shows that having a trusted person to go to for advice and support can improve a student’s overall confidence and self-esteem. When you are feeling down about yourself or your abilities, a mentor can help challenge those negative thoughts. This can improve your mental health and academic outcomes. Lastly, having a mentor can reduce feelings of loneliness that international students often experience since they are far away from their families back home.

Final thoughts on why mentoring matters

International students should not have to figure out how to succeed in the US on their own. Having a a mentor can greatly help you throughout your journey as an international student in the US, from admissions through to graduation. You will have someone you can always turn to for support and guidance whether you are looking for career guidance or struggling to assimilate to a new setting.

Participating in mentorship can improve your academic performance, career opportunities, and social life. When you are ready to find a mentor, check to see if your university has an official mentorship program and look for a mentor who is uniquely positioned to help you reach your goals.