Global Buddies is a University of Birmingham Guild of Students 'buddying' scheme that provides informal peer-to-peer support to international students, helping them to meet other students and settle into life in a new country. Since its launch in September 2016, the scheme has been extremely popular, pairing over 400 students with volunteers. A number of mixing events and trips are laid on for students, giving them the opportunity to meet fellow international students and Global Buddies volunteers in a comfortable and welcoming environment. Events and trips are open to all international students, not just those who are paired with a Global Buddy volunteer, to allow those who may not wish to have peer-to-peer support to still enjoy the fun!
The scheme also runs a regular bi-weekly event called Global Café. This is a very relaxed affair where international students can chat with international and domestic students over coffee and a board game. In addition to friendship, volunteers can offer advice to students and signpost support services, as appropriate. The scheme's volunteering coordinator Rachel Cutler explains of the initiative: "It has been truly global, attracting students from all around the world to be in the same room at the same time – which is a great!" The year's events have also included trips to Cadbury World, Stratford-upon-Avon, speed friending events, and craft workshops.
To get started, international students sign up for a Global Buddy online; they are then paired with a volunteer based on mutual interests and other aspects, such as language or degree course, where possible, to ensure that they get the best match. Rachel explains: "We are also making students aware of Global Buddies in advance of their arrival in September, with the aim that we can pair them pre-arrival, giving them the chance to get to know someone before they step foot on campus." The approachability and accessibility of volunteers make them an ideal point of contact.
Following recruitment, volunteers are given training before coming into contact with students. This involves volunteers splitting into teams and searching the University campus for the answers to certain questions, before reporting back to the group with the evidence! They are also coached in practical skills such as active listening, sign-posting and problem solving, and educated on the challenges facing international students and the support available to them. Volunteers typically donate 3-4 hours of their time to the project per week, sharing their experiences of life at University, helping international students to get to know the campus and local area, and to engage with University sports, societies and events. Throughout the year, volunteers have engaged in many different activities with their mentees, but Rachel describes some of the most memorable as students attending salsa classes together, dedicated tours of campus and Birmingham city centre, a Chinese dumpling making class, and trips out for afternoon tea. In addition to the social aspect of the pairing, volunteers can also provide practical knowledge and advice e.g. the best supermarkets to shop at or information on bus and train travel. Some partnered students have engaged in a language exchange in which both benefit from improving their language skills.
Given the success of Global Buddies, which has seen some international students asking to return next year in a volunteer role, Rachel is excited for the 2017/18 academic year to begin: "So far we’ve received some really great feedback from international students and volunteers who have been involved with us in our first year; we hope to be much bigger and better from now on!"
Indicator 4.1.1 of the International Students Instrument of the ProtectED Code of Practice requires member universities to have measures in place to help international students learn how to live in the UK, and to provide them with opportunities to socialise and make friends.