New program caters to international students

By Benita Zepeda

This semester International Student Affairs is starting a new program called the International Buddy System.

The IBS program is designed for foreign exchange students and students who have studied abroad in previous semesters. The main goal of the program is to help students adjust to culture in the U.S. as well as in Chicago.

Gigi Posejpal, director of International Student Affairs, said discussion of the program began in the summer.

“The idea is that a person is there to help you with any questions you might have,” Posejpal said. “It’s not just questions about Columbia, it’s also to provide support, to be a friend and to help people if they want to get familiar with Chicago.”

The program isn’t limited to just foreign students; it’s also for students from the U.S. that are interested in different cultures.

“When incoming students arrive, they are paired up with a buddy to be as a resource for them,” said Johanne Scoular, assistant to Posejpal.  “A lot of current Columbia students have been really excited to get involved and are keen to get to know new people.”

The program is not mandatory for all international students who enroll at Columbia, but students are highly encouraged to get involved.

“We just want to help make the transition easier,” said Wei-Jean Chen, a junior art & design major and one of the students who helped create the program.

The IBS is unique to other programs offered through Multicultural Affairs because it is peer-based. This means that even though faculty is involved with the program, all the buddies are students.

“The buddy program is good because it’s on a peer level; it’s student-to-student,” Posejpal said. “I just think I would feel more comfortable speaking to a fellow student as opposed to going to the office to talk to an administrator.”

Posejpal emphasized this isn’t a mentoring program.  She said she believes that by making sure students know it is a peer-to-peer program, they will feel more comfortable because students are on the same level and can relate to the problems one may face when adjusting to a new culture.

Chen, who came here as an international student from Malaysia, said she would have utilized the buddy program when she first came to the U.S.

“When I first came here we never had this program,” Chen said. “I moved from Malaysia, which is a tropical country. I came to Chicago in the middle of winter and I was alone—it was scary. I wish there would have been a buddy to approach me. It would have helped me a lot.”

Chen and Posejpal helped create the program along with Ash Jang, another international student, and Marcelo Caplan, technology coordinator of Columbia’s Science Institute.

The population of international students that make up Columbia comes from more than 40 different countries.  This fall, there are about 50 new international students entering the undergraduate and graduate programs.

Posejpal encourages students to not only get involved with the IBS, but to also stop by the Multicultural Affairs Office to learn about other opportunities that are available.

“I think our office here offers a snapshot to the diverse landscape that make up our Columbia College community,” Posejpal said.  “It’s a great way to get involved with campus and a great way to network.”

Interested in the IBS? Contact Wei-Jean Chen at, Ash Jang at, or Gigi Posejpal at (312) 369-7458 or You can also visit Multicultural Affairs located at 618 S. Michigan Ave. on the 4th floor.