WRITTEN BY: Cas Legrand, Jaclyn Dawe & Farah Mustafa, iConnect Mentorship Program
Photo Caption: iConnect mentees, mentors, and leaders take a night off from U of T to explore the wonders of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) 2016-2017.
Photographer: Muhammad Waqar Ahmad Ranjha
At the confluence of intercultural learning and mentorship lies the iConnect International Mentorship Program, a non-academic organization that helps facilitate a smooth transition into the University of Toronto environment for first year international undergraduate and graduate students. This year, the program serves upwards of 150 participants from 22 countries, and is comprised of 10 leaders, 30 mentors, and over 120 mentees.
By pairing current students with new international students, iConnect seeks to bridge the gap between different ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds while promoting inclusive intercultural learning and dialogue. The program matches mentors with international student mentees, based on a consideration of personality and communication styles, extracurricular interests, and talents. Throughout the year, mentors and mentees engage in intercultural activities and discourse, which are interwoven into the program structure to allow for an enriching mosaic of conversations, interactive learning experiences, storytelling, and feedback-sharing.
Similar to a club with an executive team, iConnect is coordinated by 10 student leaders, many of whom were previous mentors and mentees. Leaders organize iConnect’s large-scale community events and oversee the program’s mentors. With guidance from leaders, mentors regularly communicate with their mentees, providing a warm welcome into the new city and university environment. Specifically, mentors host small group outings and meet-ups, helping mentees to acclimatize to life at the University of Toronto, introducing them to campus resources and services, and exposing them to the intercultural richness that Toronto has to offer. As an example of one of iConnect’s outings last semester, some members visited the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto to learn about its programs and services, which are based on a valuing of inclusivity and grounded in Indigenous cultural traditions. As well, iConnect leaders hosted both an autumn Porch Social and a Winter Social gathering, including a variety of seasonal activities and icebreakers, promoting intercultural dialogue, personal reflection, story-sharing and fun mingling. In facilitating these and other iConnect events, leaders sought and utilized mentees’ feedback to ensure the program’s ongoing responsivity to its members’ preferences and needs.
By taking different approaches to mentorship — including guided community outings, on- campus events, and informal communication between mentors and mentees — iConnect provides its members with the opportunity to discover new resources and social connections at the University while expanding their intercultural awareness and learning. As members sometimes transition from mentees to mentors and leaders during their student careers, they can further develop interpersonal, intrapersonal, and leadership skills.
Throughout the rest of this semester, we hope to share more experiences with you from the iConnect program, through the lens of our mentees, mentors, and fellow leaders. If you are interested in learning more about iConnect, taking part in the program, or recommending it to a prospective first year international student, we encourage you to visit: http://uoft.me/iconnect.