"A Second Home:" Peer Mentor Circles for International Graduate Students to Ease Transitions and Foster Sense of Belonging
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The purpose of this instrumental case study was to examine the experiences of international graduate students as they participated in a peer mentor circle (PMC) program that aimed to ease their transitions and foster sense of belonging. International graduate students provide many financial, educational, and social benefits to American universities. International graduate students encounter many challenges as they pursue higher education in the United States including transitioning to new social norms and community issues (Lee & Rice, 2007), navigating a new higher education system (Hellsten & Prescott, 2004), handling homesickness (Church, 1985), and coping with academic stressors such as writing and communicating in English (Cavusoglu et al., 2016; Hunter-Johnson, 2016). To mitigate these experiences and feelings, Duru (2008) asserted that developing social support systems and increasing social connectedness among students can ease transitions.
In an attempt to ease transitions and foster sense of belonging while also addressing the challenges experienced by international graduate students, I designed and implemented a five week peer mentor circle program in which 14 participants attended during the first five weeks of the spring 2020 semester. Through demographic data forms, observations, interviews, focus groups, and voice memos, I examined the experiences of the international graduate student participants in the PMC to better understand their experiences navigating transitions and developing sense of belonging.
The study found that the PMC did ease their transitions. Analyzed with the use of transition theory (Schlossberg, 2001) and sense of belonging (Anant, 1969), findings indicated participants experienced the moving in and beginnings of the moving through phases of transitions. Additionally, through sharing feelings and bonding over shared experiences, participants developed a strong social support system and thus a sense of belonging. Insights to the experiences of international graduate students’ transitions and sense of belonging during their first semester are provided through this study.