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A Bow Valley College kind of buddy system

Thanks to mentorship program, Carlo Sarmiento never felt alone.

Like many international students, when Carlo Sarmiento started at Bow Valley College in August of 2019, he didn’t know a soul on campus or, with the exception of his uncle, in Calgary. “I needed help socially to build my confidence,” says the Business Administration Diploma – Financial Services Major student who had just moved to Calgary from the Philippines when he began his diploma.

However, Carlo swears that once he joined the Bow Valley College Buddy program, he never felt alone.

The Buddy program pairs students in their first term (buddy mentees) with students in a later term (buddy mentors). The program benefits new students by reducing the confusion and ambiguity of transitioning into a new post-secondary environment, says Kelty Christensen, learner success advisor – RISE and coordinator of the Buddy program. A go-to person to answer questions, clarify information, provide support, and give advice takes the stress out of starting as a new student at the College, she adds.

Ifeoma Ngwudike, student affairs officer, had the idea for the program. “Students relate differently with their peers than with employees especially when they may be facing challenges,” she says. “The Buddy program was started to foster peer support and engagement, reduce isolation and help new students integrate successfully to the College community as well as offer current student leadership opportunities.”

That said, Carlo also participated in Learning Navigator, a program that pairs students with College employees who can offer them personal support as they adjust to College life. Carlo was matched with Charlene Tomlinson, director, campus services.

The Buddy program was originally for new international students, but the team behind it quickly realized that all new students in their first semester could benefit from it. 

Carlo says it’s the constant engagement from the students, buddies, and coordinators that helped him feel like he belonged.

In his first semester, Carlo was paired with buddy mentor Mizze Walker, a domestic Addiction Studies Diploma – Aboriginal Focus student. “My buddy mentor was instrumental to me as I learned more about the College and Calgary, especially as an international student,” says Carlo.

Carlo adds Mizze was very active in the College, organizing events like pizza parties and movie nights for all students (pre-COVID-19). “[Those events] helped me socialize with others, build my confidence, [and] expand my network,” says Carlo.

Outside of the college, Mizze helped him figure out how to get government-issued ID and an Alberta Personal Health Card.

In Carlo’s first semester, during a group activity, Kelty encouraged all buddy mentees to become buddy mentors the following semester. She also spoke to Carlo about it informally. “At first, I was hesitant, because I wasn't that confident,” says Carlo.

However, he thought about it and had a couple of discussions with Mizze, and realized if he really wanted to integrate himself into the school, it's one of the programs he could take advantage of. “I might as well take this opportunity to build my network [and] my confidence and help others,” he says.

During his second term, Carlo became a buddy mentor, and has continued to participate in the program ever since. Now in his fourth term, he is currently a buddy mentor to Emil Agbayani, an international student in the Hospital Unit Clerk Certificate. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the pair interact using email and video chat.

What Carlo has enjoyed most about the program to date is the tour of the National Music Centre (again, pre-COVID-19). His favourite memory of the Buddy program is going ice skating at Olympic Plaza. It was only his second time skating, and he learned some basics which allowed him not to fall too much.

Carlo is still in touch with Mizze and his first buddy mentee, Sam Saleem. “[The program] has helped me big time,” says Carlo. It’s an avenue to share your ideas and share your thoughts, he says. Even if it’s virtual, the buddies have a group chat on Teams where they talk about topics like what their passion is and where they’ve been in Calgary or in Alberta. “We still have this community.”

Are you an international student with questions about studying at Bow Valley College and COVID-19? Check out our International Students page for answers.

Posted on April 27, 2021

Story by Julie-Anne Cleyn


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