By Mina Inaba
Through the International Buddy program, international students and domestic students are matched together to create friendships and gain opportunities for language and cultural exchange. CI’s International Programs provide the International Buddy Program to serve both international and domestic students at CI.
The Buddy Program aims to bridge CI students to international students who want to connect with others and for help and to make some friends. Domestic students wanted to aid international students, too, in transitioning to CI and gaining a multicultural perspective.
The International Programs Office paired up students who applied for the Fall 2022 Buddy Program according to answers provided on a survey about student interests and preferences. Rica Ley Madayag, a senior information technology major and a student assistant at the International Programs Office, told us that she made about 20 groupings for the Buddy Program. The participants are expected to connect with their buddies after being assigned and aim to meet at least once a month, either in person or online.
As the Study Abroad Coordinator at the International Programs Office, Courtney Gross gave The CI View her insights on the Buddy Program. She stated that she has witnessed how having a buddy overseas helps her study-abroad students with the transition of living and learning in a new and unfamiliar place. This year’s Buddy Program was actually partly designed by a returning study-abroad student who went to South Korea and experienced the value of those international connections.
It is natural that one would want to have some friends to hang out with when we jump into a new environment, and many of the international students were feeling the same. Berkhan Berkdemir, a senior computer science major from Turkey, “wanted to get to know more people and around Camarillo.” Likewise, Sai Sahithya Chamarthy, a biotechnology first-year graduate student from India, joined the program because she wanted to make friends.
For domestic students, many also joined to make new friends. Kelli Magaña Magaña, a Chicano studies alumna, wanted to “meet different students from different countries, and make new (friends).” In addition to that, many domestic students wanted to be of help to international students. Jonathan M. Flores, a senior psychology major student, applied for it because of his interest in a global experience. Also, he knows how important it is to have someone supportive in a new place. “My experience from the Men of Color Mentoring Program here in CI really made me see how much having a friend to talk to or hang out with goes a (long) way, especially if you’re new to the campus,” Flores said.
Buddies are completing their first hangouts, and they are loving the program and enjoying their new international friendships. Both Itanidehui Maldonado, a junior year English education major, and her buddy, Chamarthy, told The CI View they love the experience. It seems that the interest survey they took during the application helped facilitate their fun matching. Samuel Jarquin Avellan, a senior year economics major and international student from Germany, said he likes the program a lot because “my buddy and I get along very well since we have both Latin American roots and musical background.” Flores commented that his assigned buddy, Berkdemir, is really cool and funny, and said, “I really appreciate how the buddy program really linked me with someone else who has the same interests and hobbies like me.”
Their new friendships will continue to grow in the future. The buddies are hoping to have more hangouts. Ritsuko Shimizu, a junior year film analysis major from Japan, is expecting to eat out with her buddy soon, and Flores is also excited about their future meetings. Flores said, “We already have a month of knowing one another and I can’t wait to hit up more events throughout the semester!” Even after international students finish their program at CI, their friendships will not end. Avellan said that he “would like to buil(d) on the buddy program for later international visits.”
Friendships are a major outcome of this program, but it provides much more, too. Gross said to The CI View that beyond friendship, it is her hope that the Buddy Program facilitates the exchange of culture, language, perspectives and ideas that will inspire students to step outside of their comfort zone and travel widely. Gross continued, “(As) global citizens, we have more in common than we may realize; shared interests and values transcend borders.”
Some participants have ideas on how the program could expand. Berkdemir suggested “a dinner-like event of all buddy program members” so that other pairs can meet up and enhance the program experience further. Flores also added that he wishes the international programs had a meet and greet since he did not know that there is a big international student presence on campus. To promote their presence and more international interactions on campus, more events would be a good idea for the International Programs Office.
Overall, this Buddy Program has given the students meaningful international experiences and made the CI community strong and global. As one of the international students, I am glad to hear the voices of the students enjoying the program and I appreciate that many domestic students are happy to help international students. I hope they keep and develop their cross-cultural friendships in the future. As Gross told us, it is only “the beginning of a lifetime of global engagement and connection.”