When Harry met Sarita: Using a peer-mentoring program to develop intercultural wisdom in students

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Research and Development in Higher Education: Transforming Knowledge into Wisdom Holistic Approaches to Teaching and Learning Vol. 27

July, 2004, 359 pages
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0 90 8557 58 2

This paper offers a practical and innovative model for enhancing intercultural skills and providing opportunities for meaningful social contact between Australian and international students. The information will assist practitioners considering similar programs for students.

Studying at university is a social and cultural experience as well as an educational one, and students benefit from developing abilities to interact with people from different backgrounds in addition to acquiring knowledge and skills. The presence of international students on Australian campuses presents opportunities for students of all backgrounds to develop intercultural understanding. However, universities may need to put more effort into promoting meaningful social contact between local and overseas students if intercultural wisdom is to be developed among students.

In response to this challenge, the University of Canberra developed and implemented a group model of peer-mentoring in which leadership pairs (one Australian and one international student) mentored small groups of overseas students. The program was designed through a synthesis of models offered in the literature and through a consultative process with students themselves.

Thirty-two volunteer student leaders were trained to provide social support to new arrivals during the first five weeks of semester. The leaders’ experiences were evaluated using surveys and independently run focus groups. Both international and Australian student leaders reported benefiting from their experiences in the program. Program leaders felt that the training and support that they received, as well as being part of a recognised and supported peer-mentoring program helped them to feel more confident in interacting with students from cultural backgrounds different to their own. The University community also derived benefit from the intercultural communication skills the participants developed and the culture of inclusiveness and social tolerance modelled in the program design.

Keywords: Mentoring; peer support; intercultural skills.

When Harry met Sarita: Using a peer-mentoring program to develop intercultural wisdom in students

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Devereux, L.