“You learn with every new person you meet.” Supporting Students’ Navigation of Difference in the Intercultural Mentorship Program

The role that post-secondary education plays in student success goes beyond transmitting academic knowledge and skills. Contribution to the community, effective communication across difference, leadership through mentorship are skills and qualities that are practiced beyond the classroom and are critical for workplace success. With increasingly diverse workplaces, we need to provide students with opportunities for interaction across boundaries of difference, leading to multiple benefits. Although the most common formats for enhancing college students’ competence with diversity and intercultural skills are multicultural classes and diversity workshops, research suggests that engagement with diverse peers in the informal campus environment is the key to positive diversity outcomes, including interpersonal and academic validation, social identity awareness (salience), multicultural competencies and a host of civic outcomes. [1]

Here comes the Intercultural Mentorship Program. A one-on-one partnership between a Local student and a Global Student, the IMP offers students opportunities to communicate across cultures, to reflect on their cultural identities and share their ideas and beliefs in a way that enhances the intercultural experience at Red River College and creates positive interactions on campus and in the community.

Melanie is a Canadian-raised Library and Information Technology student at Red River College. She has been wanting to volunteer in an exchange-type of program for a long time so when she heard about the IMP at Red River College, she immediately signed up. She was excited to learn about others and sharing about herself, making connections and creating new and positive experiences for others. Melanie’s mentor partner, Bich is an international student from Vietnam who is taking Business Administration at Red River College. Like many international students, Bich was excited to make new friends in the new environment (she came to Canada in August 2017!) and socialize outside the classroom.

Melanie and Bich first met at the Orientation session where they introduced each other, discussed goals for their partnership and planned some fun activities together. In the 8 weeks they spent as mentor partners, Melanie and Bich met for lunch and tried out various global cuisines (including Melanie’s first Pho and Bich’s first pancakes!), they met each other’s friends, celebrated Thanksgiving and Remembrance day, enjoyed a concert at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra together (the Program provides free tickets to exciting events in the community!) and explored FortWhyte and other Winnipeg staple destinations that helped them bond and have interesting conversations.

“I learned especially about how life works in the home, roles of family members, how individuals are viewed and what is expected” shares Melanie while Bich is especially grateful for learning more about Canada and having a friend to experience winter with: “Our discussion on family really made me think of the difference in expectations and importance from mine to hers. New physical experiences through colder temperatures and snow was a fun one.”

The Intercultural Mentorship Program encourages students to share their experiences and engage in meaningful conversations in a positive and nurturing environment. In fact, when we connect with others from groups we are less familiar with and we diversify the stories we encounter, we can better connect with the humanity of people who may look or sound different to us. Studies show that being exposed to counter-stereotypical images and stories from people from other groups leads to less implicit bias and increased opportunity for positive contact[2]. And the best way to achieve this is by offering students a platform where they can engage across differences.

If you’re interested in becoming a mentor partner in the Intercultural Mentorship Program, registration for Term 2 is now open! Please visit www.rrc.ca/imp to find out more!

“This program goes beyond the experience of seeing wonderful places and events here in Winnipeg. It is a great way to establish a new form of friendship where you can express your thoughts, ideas and cultural differences in more collective and participative interactions.” Local Mentor

“This program helped me understand that differences in culture is not a hindrance for people to unite but it is a way to open our mind of new ideas and innovations.” Global Mentor

“Thanks to IMP, I communicated more with people, had more memorable experiences, made new friends, gain more insights into other cultures. And, what I like the most is that it made me feel more connected with the college, and with everyone.” Local Mentor

[1] https://www.heri.ucla.edu/ford/DiverseLearningEnvironments.pdf

[2] https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_build_relationships_across_difference