Bridging the Gap with GAP

UCSD students help International and Out-of-State students transition into UCSD.

Out of the approximately 6,000 students who are enrolled into UC San Diego in fall 2016, about 15 percent are from the San Diego area. For the 29 percent of out-of-state and international students, coming to a new environment by themselves can be a scary and overwhelming experience. Campus resources and information on the Internet could only provide so much insight to students who don’t know the area well or who don’t have someone who can mentor them throughout their transition. Even someone like me, who comes from Northern California, can have a hard time adapting to the change in humidity, living away from parents, and figuring out all the ins and outs of academics like using WebReg.

Last spring quarter, as I was getting ready to finish my classes and go home, I received my weekly newsletter from the Study Abroad Office. It included an advertisement from the Outreach Coordinators for International and Out-of-State Students for a program called the Global Ambassadors Program, or GAP for short. GAP is a helpful campus resource that reduces the stress that comes with moving to a new campus, which is typically different from the average student’s home culture or environment. This free resource pairs continuing student volunteers with incoming students according to similar interests, languages, majors, or colleges. The student mentors virtually engage and communicate with their paired mentees by social media, email, or text during the summer about various topics such as academics, campus resources, UCSD student life, and extracurricular activities. Volunteers are provided a handbook of campus resources and a Facebook group with the other mentors in case mentees ask questions that cannot be answered by their mentors.

GAP is part of the Outreach Coordinator Department, which caters toward international and out-of-state students. The department started just six years ago, in 2013, and GAP has since served hundreds of students. This year alone, there were 256 incoming students from all over the world who signed up. International participants came from all over the world, ranging from India to Sweden, and American students came from places ranging from New Orleans to our border state, Oregon. Each of these students were paired with one the 140 mentors who volunteered this year. However, because there were more mentees than mentors, some mentors had two or more mentees. 

“There are many types of students who join this program,” Grace Fuller, one of the Outreach Coordinators, said. “Because of the diversity of people we have in the program, sometimes students and their mentees don’t interact outside of the program, but I’ve seen some students end up as best friends.” 

GAP benefits incoming students by helping them connect to campus before they even arrive.

Navigating UCSD is much easier if you know the tricks and tips before even coming to campus, which can save a lot of time, money, and frustrations, and leaves room to focus on other things. While incoming students can research the logistics of how the school works and the resources that UCSD offers, they can’t google questions that come from experience. Without GAP, how else would they have advance knowledge on the best path to take from Sixth to York for an 8am class, or the professor to take for math, the best places to spend dining dollars, and tips for getting into student organizations. Most importantly, coming into college with any type of idea of what it’s going to be like will make the experience more enjoyable without having to worry about logistical details, such as when and where to pay your bills and when deadlines for important forms are. 

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One of the mentees, Angela Wang, an freshman in Sixth College, recalled her GAP experience. “[It] provided me with a feeling that I belong to UCSD,” she said. “ I felt like someone was looking out for me even before I stepped foot on campus.” 

Wang’s positive experience with GAP was due to the fact that she had a great mentor. The program highly depends on the students who sign up to be a mentee and the students who volunteer to be mentors. For example, if mentees don’t respond to their mentors or if mentors don’t actively ask questions and engage their mentees, they wouldn’t have gotten the most out of GAP. 

While GAP is meant to be a resource for incoming students, it also benefits the mentors. Those who volunteer to become mentors can put this experience onto their Co-Curricular Record, and have official documentation of their skills in leadership and campus engagement to present to future employers. 

After all the research that I did before coming to UCSD (graduation requirements for my college, how does AP credit transfer, where do I go when I first arrive, etc), I figured that I could help someone feel a little less lost than I did, and so I volunteered to become a mentor.

My personal experience as a mentor helped me meet people across different cultures, disciplines, and ages. Students who were previous mentees also come back to GAP to become mentors. College is a great time to form friendships and be part of a community. For these incoming students, GAP may be their first community. GAP fosters these relationships just like any other organization or group; they hold socials like international nights where you get to learn about specific cultures, or give coffee vouchers for mentors and mentees to catch up and check on one another. 

One valuable aspect of being in GAP is learning about other’s cultures and backgrounds and why they chose to come to UCSD. Cultural competence is also an important skill in any career, from human resources to bioengineering, where working with people from different backgrounds is inevitable. For me, even though I wasn’t paired up with an international mentee, I still got to learn about people who were from a different background than me and got to put together their values as a person. Most importantly, it made me realize how diverse UCSD is. Being exposed to other types of goals, personalities, and interests challenges me every day. It’s a chance to learn and grow with 30,000 other people. 

Photos courtesy of GAP. 

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