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Polar Pals program getting students more internationally involved on campus

Polar Pal attendees work on their Dia de los Muertos sugar skulls at the

Polar Pal attendees work on their Dia de los Muertos sugar skulls at the "Sugar and Spice" event on Friday, Oct. 30. (Northern Review photo/Khadijah Bagais)

In line with both fall and Halloween, International Services held a “Sugar and Spice” event, complete with pumpkin spice lattes and Dia de Los Muertos sugar candy skull painting, on Friday, Oct. 30.

Not only did the event serve as a great way to bring international and domestic students together, but it was also one of the many new programs ONU’s Polar Pals program has incorporated into their calendar this year.

Polar Pals is an international student mentorship program that was started three years ago by students who wanted to better engage new international students on campus. The program pairs up a new international student with an established student, who then serves as someone they can interact with, ask questions, and help them become more familiar with ONU overall.

Renato Montini, an engineering exchange student from Brazil, said he decided to join the program as a way for him to more easily get involved and social on campus.

The program is a good opportunity to students like me that want to meet new people but are afraid of doing it because [they] either are shy or don’t know how to,” he said.

Polar Pal mentors are required to meet with their mentee for at least one hour a week, and so in the past student pairs would have to come up with activities to do together. However, over her past year here, International Services Coordinator Omega Hollies has created a more involved program. She has not only created a variety of Polar Pal sponsored events, where the mentors and mentees can participate in meals, activities, and trips for free, but additionally improved upon the initial matching process.  

“Last year [they were] just matched based on their applications,” she said. “This year I started thinking a little more about how we could do this intentionally so that the students had more agency in their matches. So we organized a Polar Pal retreat, where mentors and mentees got to meet each other and see who they get along with. They’re not just a person on a sheet of paper, anymore.”

In addition to having more compatible matches, the program’s events are more focused on providing students with a relaxing, mixed international and American experience. This semester alone, Polar Pals have visited Suter's Corn Maze, carved pumpkins, and made cupcakes. 

“The activities help Pals to interact [with] each other,” said Renato. “Not only mentor-mentee, but also with other mentees and mentors. I think those activities are very important to help the group mingle.”

They currently host two programs a month, but Omega is hoping to have the students step up to be program leaders in the spring.

“It will be an exciting time because it’s really putting the ball in the students’ court and making sure that they get a say in what we’re doing as a program,” she said.

Next month there will be an international-themed Thanksgiving, with both American and international foods, to showcase the different traditions of the world.

Those who are interested in being mentors can contact International Services at internationalservices@onu.edu. The only requirement for mentors is that they must have status above that of a freshman.