Published May 17, 2016
Vikash Mani describes Fran Fiscus as a second mother who texts him every day to see if he needs anything.
And Mani is such a part of Fiscus’ family that when he calls her house “my husband often says, ‘Your other son is on the phone,’” says Fiscus, workforce data analyst for the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
Mani and Fiscus were introduced four years ago through UB’s International Student Mentoring Program, an initiative in which UB staff members serve as mentors and a local support system for international students.
Although the program requires a commitment of only one semester, Mani and Fiscus have remained close for his entire undergraduate career. In fact, Fiscus and her family attended Mani’s commencement on Saturday — he received a BS in business administration.
Fiscus and Mani’s experience is just one example of the memories and lasting friendships that are made as staff members help guide international students during their time at UB.
Sponsored by the Office of International Student and Scholar Services and Counseling Services, the International Student Mentoring Program (ISMP) aims to provide social support for students who are a long way from home.
Staff members who volunteer their time — and are called cultural partners — are paired with students, with whom they meet for at least an hour every two weeks for one semester. Activities can be as simple as having lunch together, going for coffee or taking a walk, or as elaborate as visiting a local tourist attraction, going to a sports event or having dinner in the mentor’s home.
“It is an amazing opportunity for new friendships and memories that’ll last a lifetime,” Fiscus says.
Mani says that whenever he stops by Fiscus’ office to see her, her co-workers ask if he is there to see his Mom.
“She does everything a mom does and took care of me like I was her own son,” he says. “Whenever I feel lonely, I call her to talk.”
Caterina Berti, senior research scientist in the Department of Neurology, joined the mentoring program after having faced similar challenges when she arrived from Italy nine years ago. Berti and her students shared their experiences and explored common interests while going on field trips with her family and celebrating Thanksgiving together.
“We shared our thoughts and feelings, and she gave me a lot of good advice regarding academic life and future work.” says Jianqiao Han, a biomedical engineering student who graduated from UB last year.
Han and Shrutee Manoohar Patil, a graduate student in management information systems, spent the same semester with Berti.
“She, along with her family, accepted us and treated us like friends,” adds Patil. “It was like getting long lost friends and family away from home.”
Berti has stayed in contact with her students long past the formal mentorship.
“I guess we will keep in touch no matter what they will do and what their adventure will be,” she says.
Mary Dahl, resource coordinator for the School of Management’s Undergraduate Learning and Community Center, has been participating in the program for several years and says it’s one of her favorite ways of interacting with students.
Dahl saw the program as an opportunity to be a mother-like figure to students and help them overcome challenges. She has worked with students from India, China and Nepal.
Chintan Thakker, one of Dahl’s mentees, especially enjoyed a trip he made with Dahl to an Amish village. “I have visited many cities after coming to the U.S., but I never had a chance to visit a town and learn about its culture,” he says. “I enjoyed the whole experience.”
For her part, Dahl says mentoring international students “has enriched my life and career considerably. It is a mutually beneficial experience. I always learn as much as I teach.”
Through the program, Dahl and others have developed an understanding and appreciation for cultural differences.
“ISMP can truly make a positive difference in a student’s life, and it definitely has in mine,” Dahl says.
The International Student Mentoring Program is recruiting participants for the fall semester. UB staff members who are interested in joining the program can apply online or can contact Jessica Ereiz or Chris Bragdon in the Office of International Student & Scholar Services for more information.
Definitely recommend this program to anyone at UB! You learn so much from the mentees in such a short period of time, and they truly appreciate the friendship and advice. I still keep in touch with a few of my students.