Lost (and found) in translation

Justine Banal

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International students pose with their California Cousins at their field trip to Long Beach Harbor and the Aquarium of the Pacific.

For many of the international students at Fullerton College, coming to America was like learning a new sport or a musical instrument.

They come in with a goal to be first chair in the orchestra, MVP or just to grow and learn new things, but when you dive in for the first time; it can be scary. There are new rules, new words and new people that seem to know exactly what they’re doing.

All this “new” could leave anyone lost in translation. Teachers and coaches are great resources, but it’s not like they’re going through the same problems that international students are. For international students, this is where the California Cousins came in.

The California Cousins is a peer mentorship program unique to Fullerton College. International and American-born student volunteers provide academic and emotional support to new students studying at Fullerton College on an F-1 student visa.

“A lot of the time students who come in from new countries come in, some days right before the semester begins. There really is a lot of culture shock they might feel. Our California Cousin peer mentors are here to help them adjust to life here on campus, to share their experiences about domestic life if they’ve been born and raised in the U.S.,” said Naomi Abesamis, California Cousins Coordinator. “A lot of our California Cousins are international students. They can also share and celebrate their cultures from their home country experience as well as their experience in the U.S.”

Unlike other peer mentorship programs, the Cousins played a role in selecting the students they would be mentoring to ensure a fulfilling personalized experience.

“It makes more sense. [The Cousins] are really going to go out of their way to connect with them,” Abesamis said. “They said it would be a good idea to pay attention to the person’s major and really match the student with one of them with a major in that same field. It’s a great way to start a conversation and a sharing point.”

Abesamis joined the International Student Center staff in August and over the course of her time as California Cousins Coordinator, she realized that the college’s international student population was not all that different from the rest of the student body.

“[International students are] looking at that big picture already and it would be great for Fullerton College domestic students, who are also looking for that experience outside of where they’re currently at, to broaden their horizons,” Abesamis said. “I think that’s the perfect marriage because you’re getting these two different points of view together and you’re creating something very special.”

California Cousins play a key role in helping international students adjust to American lifestyle and culture.

“For me, when it was my first semester, I didn’t know how to do a lot of things. I was so confused and I didn’t know what to do. The California Cousins were always there to help me,” said Tina Hu, an international student from Taiwan.

The California Cousins helped Hu through her biggest challenge in coming to America: learning English.

“English is not my native language but I’m in America so everyone speaks English fluently. I was afraid that it was going to be hard to be a part of the group,” Hu said. “[My California Cousin] would say things to encourage me and said I didn’t have to be scared and it really calmed me down.”

The backbone of this program was students helping students, which created a more accessible and approachable outlet for assistance.

“Because we’re at the same age and we’re doing the same kind of thing, it’s easier for them to ask us questions even just to hang out,” said Virginia Kennedy, California Cousin. “Some of them just need someone to be their friend right now and make it a little easier to be here.”

Though Kennedy got involved with various extracurricular activities over the course of her academic career, California Cousins was where she found her niche.

“I don’t really love clubs because I feel like they’re wishy washy. You can go but it’s not a responsibility and you can go when you want,” Kennedy said. “It’s a different avenue for getting involved on campus that I like a little bit better.”

For more information on the California Cousins program and ways to get involved for next semester, contact Naomi Abesamis at [email protected].