Here at Cap, we love to brag about our international students. We can’t help it! We admire the ambition and courage it takes to move to a new country, immerse oneself in a new culture and study in a different language. But even for the most confident world-traveller, the first term at a foreign school can be pretty intimidating.

Why is there so much group work here? Am I supposed to greet everyone I see? Where should I buy groceries? And why does everyone get so excited about this thing called “Halloween?” For someone not from here, there’s actually a lot to get used to!

Sometimes, just seeing a friendly face or having someone to call will go a long way in helping an international student adapt and thrive. At Capilano University, the International Leadership and Mentorship program has got this down to an art. At the beginning of every term, as international students from around the world settle into their new city, a dedicated crew of staff and students at Capilano University’s Centre for International Experience (CIE) are participating in intensive training workshops and designing the most effective ways to integrate our global guests.     

According to CIE manager Lana Van Velthuizen, “every wise university” operates some form of student mentorship, but Cap has brought the quality of its own to an extremely high level since the official International Leadership and Mentorship program launched in September 2012.

At Cap, dedicated staff members oversee the program’s development alongside student volunteers. The relatively small campus also allows the CIE to blend their events and activities with those from many other student organizations such as the Capilano Students’ Union, English for Academic Purposes, CapUWorks (sustainability) or the Business student collectives (see It’s time to ‘suit up’ Cap U) allowing international students to get to know the full campus community.

The International Leadership and Mentorship program also continues to evolve and improve, this year incorporating more community development-oriented activities such as volunteering at a Greater Vancouver Food Bank. “We’re thinking broader than just having fun,” says Lana, emphasizing that an important part of Canadian culture that they want to convey involves helping those in need, recognizing our wealth and being generous with our resources.

Super skills

The benefits of having someone from your own faculty to show you the ropes and offer a standing invitation to a semester-long series of events from hikes to hockey games to Halloween parties is pretty obvious. If you ask Lana who gains most from the program, however, she’ll quickly tell you it’s the student mentors themselves. “Some of the goals of the program are to bring students together, build a community, and to create developmental opportunities for those involved,” she says. “Mentors go through facilitated training on an ongoing basis and learn about important topics such as leadership, mentorship, university engagement, event planning, fundraising and sponsorship, team work, and effective communication. They are able to apply these skills while mentoring new international students, working with other mentors on a team and organizing events. It’s true development, on a personal and professional level.”

One key feature of the program is that it’s quite discerning about its membership. Those applying to be mentors must have been at Cap for at least one year, and all are interviewed about their personal, academic and professional ambitions. Successful applicants then undergo up to 15 hours of training throughout the term in sessions taught by resident experts from the university’s marketing, event planning, business, and sustainability teams to the university president herself.

Within each six-person mentorship team, each person is also assigned a distinct project role, either in internal or external communications, marketing, finance, multimedia or as a team coordinator. This is a new model for the program that creates an efficient, professional atmosphere where responsibilities are clear and everyone contributes. “Mentors learn so much about themselves through the roles they take on and the way they function on the team,” says Lana.

International mentors Rachel Pearson, Cole Caswell and James Brown are all fourth-year Business students, all North Shore born and bred, and all recently returned from studying abroad in Bordeaux, France. “We got there and we were totally lost,” says Rachel. “Our mentor in France saved our lives!” Wanting to return the favour, the three are now not only welcoming friends from Bordeaux to Vancouver, but also students from Brazil, South Korea and beyond.

Join the club

With new international students arriving each term, a mentor has the opportunity to meet dozens of fascinating people throughout the school year. According to Lana, approximately 20 per cent of international students also go on to become mentors themselves. Interested in joining this community? International students can request a mentor online, and for current students, applications to become a mentor are also accepted on an ongoing basis. For more information, contact Stasa Andric, international outreach and events officer at 604.990.7929.

Submitted by Marketing & Communications