Adapting to a new culture is always a challenge, but for 58 international students arriving at the U of M last January to join the Minnesota English Language Program (MELP), the transition was made quite a bit easier. That was thanks to eight current MELP students who volunteered their time over winter break to be Student Orientation Leaders for the newcomers. Wanting to help students whose shoes they once stood in, the orientation leaders spent a week leading tours, answering questions, and making new students feel welcome during MELP’s orientation week.

The orientation program was started three years ago by International Student Adviser Sara Schroth. “I envisioned a peer program that would encourage MELP students to help each other while gaining leadership skills,” Schroth says. “It's really exciting to see it continue to grow as students realize the value in helping one another, paying forward the kindness they once received.”

"My orientation to MELP was really good, and so I wanted to help give a good orientation to new students."

This year’s orientation leaders were eager to share their experiences.

“It was an opportunity to meet new students, and it was a chance to share my experiences. These new students need our help. For many of them, this is their first time in the US,” says Al Hasan Al Ajmi, who’s from Oman and plans to study chemical engineering at the U.

Al Ajmi enjoyed participating so much that he’s been recommending the experience to others for the next available opportunity.

Rahaf Bahajry, who’s originally from Saudi Arabia and plans to study biochemical engineering, remembers going through the orientation training, finding out how to answer common questions for the new students.

“I like helping people,” Bahajry says. “Also, I wanted to get to know the new students before they started classes. That way, if they need help, I can help them. Or if they see me on campus, they can ask questions.”

“My orientation to MELP was really good, and so I wanted to help give a good orientation to new students,” says Imanuela Nadia Sequeira Ribeiro, who’s from East Timor and plans to study psychology at the U. “My favorite part about being a student leader was meeting people from different countries. This semester there are students from Mexico, Turkey, Colombia, Peru, China, Oman, Saudi Arabia… It’s really interesting.”

The orientation leaders ensured that the new students’ first days on campus were a mix of fun and information. The Director of the English Language Program at the University, Michael Anderson, is proud of the students. Anderson says, “The Student Orientation Leaders are what make MELP great. They are a vital part of our community.”

Schroth, who trains the orientation leaders every semester, says, “The students who volunteered during our Spring ‘17 New Student Orientation week did an outstanding job. I feel lucky to have witnessed the generosity, kindness, and courage it took for the students to share their experiences, answer challenging questions, and make the new students feel comfortable and welcome to our program and our University."