By Julia Marino
He grew up in McArthur, Ohio, on the edge of Appalachia. She hails from South Korea.
Although from opposite sides of the world, Jay Simmons and Hyeran Chung have forged a friendship through a new international mentoring program in Ohio University's College of Business. The program strives to heighten cultural understanding between the college's American and international students -- a factor increasingly important to workplace success, organizers said.
An initial chat at the Baker University Center Front Room got the two acquainted with one another's hobbies and interests. A travel buff, Simmons offered advice on sightseeing in Ohio. A singer and dancer, Chung expressed her passion for Korean karaoke
Now the two regularly correspond through text messages and meet for an occasional cup of joe.
"I love to learn about the world, especially when it is from a first-hand source," said Simmons, a junior majoring in finance, accounting and MIS. As for Chung, a freshman majoring in finance, the program has helped her feel part of the Ohio University community.
"We're different, so we can be sometimes isolated," Chung said of being an international student. "To me, to say hello to a native English speaker is very difficult, so I was scared to meet an American student."
As president of the International Business Society, a student organization, Simmons played a role in establishing the college's International Student Mentorship Program. Meanwhile, faculty members reached out to international students in the Ohio Program for Intensive English to promote the mentorship effort.
So far, about 50 international students are participating, and some 25 business students serve as mentors. Organizers are leaving how each relationship should be structured up to the students.
"The goal is to eventually have enough volunteer mentors to match the number of international students," Simmons said. "Hopefully as the program matures and becomes more well-known, every student will want to participate."
Emily Burhans, assistant director of the Center for International Business Education and Development, serves as the program's adviser. She said a major mission of the program is to eliminate cultural barriers by "fostering relationships between people who might otherwise never meet."
"Unless people are breaking down cultural barriers by branching out, meeting each other and being willing to step outside their comfort zones, more international students does not necessarily mean a more internationalized culture in the College of Business," she said.
Simmons said he would like to persuade others to follow in the College of Business' footsteps by establishing international mentoring programs in other Ohio University departments.
Chung agreed that the program should expand, saying all international students could benefit from having a mentor.
"It'd be good if it could grow, because international students want it."