Receiving Foreign Students. Mentoring System at Eötvös Loránd University21.03.2007.
An incresing number of foreign students have arrived to Hungary in recent years. A great majority of them, around 150 students each year arrive to the Eötvös Loránd University of Budapest (ELTE), which has been offering an increasing number of foreign language programs. During their stay here, students receive considerable support from the mentoring system established nearly a year ago at this institution. Kata Imre organises and helps the work of the mentors within the framework of the ELTE EHÖK (University Students′ Self Government).
When did the mentors commence their work?
In fact, this system has been in operation for a few years. It worked very well at the Faculty of Law of ELTE. Then the practice faded, and we revived it last year. I would say that it launched again in a much more systematised way in the spring semester of the past academic year. Programs for foreign students did exist before, but not in the framework of an organised system.
In what structure does it operate?
It is quite well structured: first of all, ELTE has 8 faculties. Each faculty has its own Students′ Self Government with a board of foreign affairs, and the heads of these are the lead mentors at the faculty, and the Head of Foreign Affairs at the University Studets′ Self Government is the lead mentor of the university. However, the functions are often delegated, and there are a number of faculties with a faculty head of foreign affairs and a faculty lead mentor. This is because faculty boards for foreign affairs have a lot of responsibilities: they have to deal with foreign as well as Hungarian students. This arrangement enables faculty lead mentors to deal with foreign students only. We have admissions procedures for mentors at each faculty: we announce the positions via our mailing list, in newspapers and posters to call the attention of applicants. The admissions procedure for mentors is a fairly serious probing. They pay special attention to this at my own faculty: it is carried out in the presence of the faculty lead mentor, the head of foreign affairs and a foreign student, and they have a long questioning.
By what aspects are mentors selected?
We have been able to grant an extra 10 points in ERASMUS scholarship proposals for fulfilling mentoring tasks, which is quite tempting for university students. Language practice is also a motivation - these two factors attract most students. However, we aim to select applicants who have other motivations as well. It is important for a mentor to be open, tolerant and enthusiastic, in addition to a good problem solving and independent working ability. It is difficult for them to build relationships with foreigners without being devoted. For example, when I began my career as a mentor, there was no mentoring system. The university was recruiting students who would help some foreign students, and I applied to this, we beecame good friends, and these relationships are still alive. This is what we expect of our mentors: we want them to fulfill their tasks wholeheartedly, and not just for the extra scores.
What are the duties of mentors, how can they help foreign students arriving here?
First of all, they have to make contact with the foreign students. If they have any questions or need help, mentors support them. This is usually done by e-mail. However, the system is not perfect, because foreign coordinators do not let mentors know the contact information of students who arrive, and our only opportunity is to send an email to the foreign coordinators, and they forward it to the ′leaving′ students. They can then contact me by e-mail, letting me know where they come from and which faculty of ELTE they will study at, and I send this information to the given faculty. From then on, the lead mentor advises the mentors. The latter then write an e-mail to the studenty, they establish contact and start correspondence. When students arrive, we usually meet them at the airport, the bus or train station. The major problem in the first couple of days is usually to find accommodation, and we help them with this. Then they want to buy a phone, and maybe open a bank account, all these practical matters. We also have to help a lot during the enrollment process, as the system is not very foreigner-friendly as yet. For the time being, mentors have to help foreign students to contact their teachers if they want to take up a course, or students may agree with the professors themselves. During the semester, students can participate in programs we organise and advertise in advance.
What kinds of programs do you organise?
We mostly have trips and parties. The official plan usually includes excursions within the country and a journey abroad. Last year they went to Slovenia, this year they will go to Transylvania. Among destinations within Hungary are Eger, Pécs, Szeged, Debrecen, Ópusztaszer, with trips organised mostly at the week-ends. There is at least one excursion each month, and sometimes there are two. It is a fairly dense program. Trips abroad last for several days.
Do students like these programs?
Of course, they do. They like them a lot. Some thirty to fourty students are always mobile, and they enjoy the programs. Sometimes the number of students is not sufficient, and we contact other universities to recruit more participants. They are principally targeted at ELTE students, but interested students from other universities are not excluded.
What do you offer apart from excursions and parties?
This time we plan to organise theatrical programs as well. One of the lead faculty mentors was very enthusiastic, because there are English language performances. This is not a tight program, we advertise it on the web list. We recently introduced the so-called Europe Club, which is a cultural event to be organised every two or three weeks, and it aims to let foreign students introduce their own cultures in an interactive way. They can bring food and drinks and their own favourite films, and they have a discussion afterwards.
Which is the first country?
Evidently, Hungary is the first to be introduced. This is meant to encourage them a bit. We also held an Information Day for foreign students. This was followed by an interactive sightseeing program called Budapest Hunting. This is a game played by teams, with different stations in the city, helping them to explore and learn about the most important places. This is usually very interesting. I got to know people there, Italian and French students, and told them that they could present their own countries. I think this will work, it is a practice that has been tried in other countries.
Where do students arriving here usually live?
We can offer them dormitory places, but we do not really recommend this, and they tend not to choose this option. They prefer to rent apartments. Thus a number of foreigners gather in the same place, and they create an international society. It is a typical ′Erasmus feature′ that they like being together. However, some of them live in dormitories, and I know some who liked it.
What kind of feedback do you get?
I prepared a questionnaire for foreigners and the mentors this autumn, in order to assess how this system works, how we could improve it, what are its problems and what are the good points. Based on the feedback, they like the system very much. Of course, it has its own deficiencies, but it is run with volunteer student work. Despite this fact, many students apply to be mentors. The feedback is basically positive.
Where should foreign students arriving to ELTE click?