At the beginning of the new academic year 2017-2018, the Faculty of Economic and Business Administration of the University of Szeged offered Giulia Filoso, a third year student, the role of mentor for newcomers.
In fact, after collecting some opinions from the international students of the Faculty, it became clear that it was necessary to guide freshmen through their first months in a new city and study environment, both on a personal and academic level. Giulia, as a mentor, had the role of initiating the new recruits to their studies as well as helping them solving their doubts and motivating them to succeed in their academic path.
Giulia organized group sessions for the first-year students every two weeks. These meetings had different objectives. Initially, the gatherings focused on getting familiar with the University and its regulations, such as the use of official websites (e.g. Coospace, Neptun), the credit system and the main characteristics of the courses. At the same time, Giulia shared her experiences gained at the Faculty of Economics in order to satisfy the students’ curiosity and also to make the atmosphere friendlier. Once the newcomers started being comfortable in the new academic environment, the courses of the first semester became the target of the sessions. In other words, the meetings transformed to private lessons during which students could receive help from their mentor in any topic concerning the courses in order to successfully write their exams. The approach chosen by Giulia was to guide them through the theoretical background of each subject, for instance by providing them with a concept map or a short step-by-step summary. Then, she created a class discussion when they solved practical exercises, with the purpose of ensuring an active and effective understanding. Finally, the last group sessions intended to support the students in their preparation for the exam period as well as to motivate them to enhance their public speaking skills, which will be highly required in the following semesters. In particular, they were instructed about the regulations of the exam period and on how to better approach a written exam. Concerning the public speaking session, the students had the chance to practice and get precious tips for future presentations.
Despite organizing group meetings, Giulia was also available for individual private lessons. In this case, the students had to contact her in order to organize a session. A few freshmen exploited this opportunity, mainly in order to prepare for important exams. During these meetings, the mentor followed the student’s reasoning in each single step and tried to bring him/her to the solution, without revealing it. Moreover, she also prepared a brief study guide in which she summarized the theoretical background necessary to get through the practical exercises. Finally, she sometimes assigned homework to those who wished to practice at home. For instance, she provided students with a long text to summarize in order to verify whether they were able to identify the necessary information or not.
The first-year students who participated in this initiative were very enthusiastic to have a mentor who they could be helped by. Indeed, studying in a foreign country takes some time to get used to. Due to this, the whole academic system together with the atmosphere of the Faculty can be intimidating and unfamiliar in an initial phase. As Giulia experienced, newcomers need to be guided to get comfortable with regulations, courses, study method and generally the University environment within the first few months. She realized that it was not always simple and effortless to understand how a strange, new system works and that is why she initially spent most of the time solving students’ doubts and concerns about their studies, such as how to collect credits or how to get prepared better for a written exam. Additionally, it is necessary to remember that international students at the Faculty of Economic and Business Administration come from many different countries and they all have different academic background and experiences. Therefore, they do not always have the same preparation method or the same expectations. The group learning sessions provided an occasion during which the students, especially those who felt less confident in their skills, had the opportunity to face their weaknesses and improve under the guidance of their mentor, who, during these lessons, also learnt a lot on how to deal with students and how to motivate others to give their best.