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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Gateway Buddies immerse international students in community

Published: October 25, 2013
Section: Editorials

This year, Brandeis welcomed 65 Gateway Scholars to a program that integrates students whose primary language is not English from all areas of the globe into the Brandeis community. For each of these scholars, Brandeis provides intensive language development courses, tutors and analytical writing skills. But The Hoot would like to commend the university for one specific program: the Gateway Buddies.

Launched in 2012, the Gateway Buddy program pairs each Gateway Scholar with an upperclassman student. This student exposes the scholar to American culture, the colloquialisms of the English language and provides a support system for a student who is miles and miles away from home. This program has matured in the past year. Brandeis now employs 42 upperclassmen as Buddies. Each Buddy meets one-on-one with his or her student(s), giving each scholar the ability to truly connect with an upperclassman.

On the surface, this program appears rather strange, since Brandeis is paying students to be friends with other students. Buddies are paid to go out to dinner with the scholar and to attend club events and musical performances. But what Brandeis is implementing is invaluable for these scholars: the opportunity to speak English with a native speaker and to understand cultural norms and manners that they otherwise would not be exposed to.

Gateway Scholars have varying English skill levels. Some speak English almost fluently while others still struggle to understand basic units of the language. Some may feel as though they don’t need a Buddy to help them navigate Brandeis. But the program selectively hires upperclassmen, choosing students who are interested in connecting across cultures and bonding despite language barriers. Unlikely friendships can be formed from what began as an informal learning experience.

Other universities both in the United States and abroad should be keen to learn from Brandeis’ example. We do not accept international students and then leave them to fend for themselves in crowded science classes and intense English seminars where they must write papers in a language less familiar to them. The Gateway Scholars are supported on all levels, both academically and socially, and Brandeis rightly goes above and beyond to ensure their success.

See our issue next week for an in-depth news article about the Gateway Program.