When a student is curious about studying abroad, says Office of International Programs Director Marian St. Onge, not all of his or her questions have easy answers.
"'How much money will I spend a week?'" said St. Onge, reciting some common inquiries. "'Are there laundromats around where I can do my clothes?' 'Is it easy to just go out and shop?' The best person to tell you those things is a student who's done it before."
So this fall, the OIP enlisted 17 undergraduates who have studied abroad to volunteer as peer advisors for students considering such programs. The advisors discuss their experiences overseas, offer advice and help the interested students prepare to spend weeks or months in unfamiliar settings. As increasing numbers of Boston College undergraduates seek such opportunities, St. Onge feels the role peer advisors play cannot be underestimated.
"We can only tell students so much about what lies ahead," St. Onge said. "We can give them a sketch, tell them about the institution or program they would be attending, something about the city and country in which it's located. But when it comes to the daily or weekly routine, the people you believe are your peers."
"I feel I can help students find the right match," said senior Kate Mannen, a peer advisor who studied at the University of Glasgow in Scotland last year. "When you look at an overseas program, you have to look at the whole package, not only what happens in the classroom but outside it."
For Mannen, who became ill at one point during her stay in Scotland, that includes a first-hand look at socialized medicine.
The peer advisors hold weekly office hours near the OIP office. But the advisors are available for informal conversation as well, St. Onge said. Currency exchange rates, credit card usage, travel modes, entertainment and fashion are some of the areas covered.
Senior Michele Amatangelo is enthusiastic about the program at Sophia University in Tokyo, but counsels students to "go with a thick skin," since some of the ideas she encountered about American culture and society were ill-founded.
Above all, Mannen added, "we want to help students open their minds, be prepared to live differently than they might be used to. You want to keep an American identity, but you also want to assimilate and be able to relate to people."
Advisors also attend OIP functions which bring students interested in foreign study together with international exchange students, or other events promoting overseas programs. Their additional tasks might include participating in community service projects with an international element, writing or updating OIP materials and producing videotapes for the University's internal cable TV channel and the OIP video library.
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