April 15, 2019 09:13
An Intercultural Lifebelt

About International Mentoring Programmes in Hungarian Higher Education:

There may be more than one solution to the same challenge. And that also applies to supporting the integration of international students. Our brief list provides a non-exhaustive description of various mentoring programmes in Hungarian higher education.

The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) of Szeged was established in 2002 at the University. Their duties included mentoring foreign students, on-call office duty, as well organising events. Anyone over the age of 18 can join the section.
ESN Szeged primarily focuses on students coming to Szeged on a Stipendium Hungaricum scholarship; they provide support to about 200 students per scholarship programme. Mentoring begins one month before the students arrive, with an introductory welcome letter, and it continues throughout the term.
They found that in the case of Erasmus students, the initial administration presented difficulties, whereas the next central issue was finding accommodation, and later the students wanted to know about opportunities of entertainment. At the same time, in the case of students coming from non-European countries, cultural differences also requires attention.
Currently, they work with about 40 Hungarian mentors, and they also established a tutoring system consisting of 4 or 5 Stipendium Hungaricum students who have studied here for at least six months, because they found that in some situations the students have much more trust in a peer who had been in a similar situation before.

The University of Dunaújváros has received foreign students and assigned mentors to help them since 2006. In order to accomplish the duties more effectively, the University launched its multistep mentoring programme in 2017. A part of the programme is a leading mentor student who is available at the International Relations Office during office hours and continuously online. His duties include solving problems which do not require the expertise of an international coordinator, such as finding a hairdresser or making an appointment with a dentist. Besides him, other mentor students are also available to help manage affairs which require personal presence, such as visiting a doctor or administrative affairs. Apart from Hungarians, foreign mentors were also involved in the implementation, because students who share the same linguistic and cultural background usually accept each other's opinions and advice better. However, the system can only work if both Hungarian and foreign mentors are available to the students.

Driven by the feedback of higher education institutions, the Mentoring System of Stipendium Hungaricum was launched this June. That was because it became clear that there was not sufficient capacity everywhere to support the integration of international students coming from outside Europe. Currently, they work together with ten higher education institutions: Corvinus University of Budapest, Budapest Business School, the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Eötvös Loránd University, Semmelweis University, Szent István University, the University of Pécs, the University of Debrecen, the University of Miskolc and Eszterházy Károly University.

There is a leading mentor everywhere, responsible for the mentors studying at the institution, as well as for liaisoning with the students' union. The nation-wide network has altogether 297 mentor students, nearly half of whom are foreign students. The mentors were given preparatory training in summer camps, where they also attended sensitising and intercultural training. In order to help foreign students get to know and like our country and culture, academic, professional and cultural programmes are organised for them. 

In the ELTE office of Erasmus Student Network (ESN), we talked to Wisarut Rochanaruangrai and one of his mentors, Stojan Matićc about the experiences they had gained as a mentor and mentoree.

WR: I came to Hungary from Thailand to conduct Scandinavian studies, more specifically Danish language and culture at the Faculty of Humanities of ELTE. I'd always dreamt of studying in Europe, and when I saw Stipendum Hungaricum's call for applications, I applied at once.  When I applied I wasn't very confident that I might get the scholarship, but now I'm here.
SM: I come from a Hungarian village in Serbia, but formerly I only knew a few basic expressions in Hungarian. Then six years ago, we moved to Hungary, and I already graduated from secondary grammar school in Budapest. At the secondary school, I attended lots of extracurricular programmes, so when I started university, it was quite obvious that I should do something extra. That was when I joined ESN. This way I can at last transfer the knowledge and experience that I formerly gained as a foreign student, since I used to be one of them, too.

What is the biggest difference between your country and Hungary?
WR: Thailand is different in every aspect. But the biggest difference may be people's attitude. At home, people smile and talk to each other a lot. Here, in Hungary, city-dwellers seem to be a lot colder and more aloof. In the beginning, it was very strange, but now I'm getting used to it. In the last few months I even made friends.

What was the biggest challenge when you arrived?
WR: Languages. On the one hand, Danish language is difficult for me, as it has certain sounds which Thai lacks. On the other hand, Hungarian grammar was tough. Another thing I found difficult was administration before arriving. Since Thailand is not an EU country, I needed to apply for a visa, which is a long process. Then I had to buy the airplane ticket alone. For me, an 18-year-old student, it wasn't easy.
SM: Unfortunately, that's true. This situation causes serious difficulties for us, too, because it's impossible to help those coming from outside Europe, for example, obtain the necessary visa, even before they arrive, as you can't just go to Thailand to help with the paperwork. Of course, after arrival there are no obstacles; when students have administrative difficulties, want to go out or just need a few kind words, we're always here to help.
WR: Yes, administration in Hungary was much easier, because I had a mentor to help me whenever I needed him.

As mentors, what challenges are you faced with at ESN?
Mentoring Stipendium Hungaricum students is sometimes difficult, but ESN prepares its mentors for the expected difficulties thoroughly. In fact, I've had mentorees from all around the world - both scholarship and paying students - so they hardly ever catch me unawares. I've always had a good time with them, and I've made lots of friends.

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