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Mentors and Buddies

Mentors and Buddies

By: Ismael Garcia

Mentors are a mandatory part of EVS as well as a keystone in the program. On this article we will go through my experience from both sides, from receiving support from a buddy (the equivalent of a mentor in the Eramus+ studies program) in Liberec, Czech Republic, to coordinating the buddy program in my home city in Spain and back to receiving support from a mentor during my EVS in Rzeszów, Poland.


Mentor/Buddy

First things first, what is a mentor/buddy? Well, both the figure of mentor and buddy share some characteristics, but work in a different way. A mentor is a figure of the EVS program. In fact, you might find two mentors, one in the sending organization (in the home country of the EVS participant) and other in the receiving organization (country in which the EVS participant will stay during his volunteering). Since the most relevant and the required one is the second, we will focus our aim on it. The mentor is a person, preferably a student or youngster, who can’t work for the receiving organization in which the volunteer will stay in. It is favorable that the mentor has experience in living in the area of the stay since most of the tasks he might have will be solving problems related to “where to find” and “how to solve” kind of issues.

The mentor can also represent a friend figure, providing the volunteer emotional support during his stay as well as helping him with any conflict that might appear with the receiving organization. It is also important that the mentor knows about the different agents of the EVS program (Receiving organization, Cigna health insurance, National agency…) to orientate the volunteer in the conflict resolution during his stay. Also, at the beginning of the stay, the mentor might help with the pick up from the station/airport, getting a SIM card for the phone and opening a bank account, since it might happen than the volunteer doesn’t know the language of the country he will stay in.

Also, it is important to remark that the mentor will be assigned to a single volunteer, while in the buddy system it might be different due to logistic reasons, which guarantees a more personal relationship between the mentor and volunteer.

The buddy system is usually coordinated by the organization Erasmus Student Network. It is not mandatory and not always is related to the university, even though it can be found in most of the cities around Europe. The aim of the program is to assign a buddy (student at the university or recently graduated person) to a foreigner student that will take part on the Erasmus+ program. This buddy will help the student in the first steps in the same way a mentor would do. It would be recommended that both the buddy and the student belong to the same faculty, but it might not happen.

 

My first experience

I did my Erasmus+ Studies in Liberec, Czech Republic, for 10 months on the 2014-2015 academic year. When I first heard of the buddy program I didn’t know anything about it, but the opportunity of having some local student to help me sounded appealing.

I traveled with two other Spanish students and we managed to get to the dorms by ourselves. Nevertheless, my buddy helped me with the university virtual campus (which had a poorly designed English version) and once she helped me with an appointment with the doctor. She would help me with recommendations and we even shared a few classes together, in which she would translate from Czech language.

Apart from the formal tasks we could go for a coffee or share a few drinks together, which might seem like a trivial aspect, but is also part of the emotional support integrated both into the buddy and mentor programs.


My experience coordinating the program

When I came back to Spain, and after spending one year in ESN, I thought that it would be a good idea to create the buddy system in my section to help the incoming Erasmus students in my city.

During the academic year we took care of nearly 200 students. We did not have many volunteers so sometimes each of us would have 5, 6 or even more students assigned to each of us. Indeed, it was not an incapability to take care of them with a bit of extra effort.

Since our university offered study programs in English, many of the students could not talk Spanish, so the tasks as translators would be the most required, but not the only ones we would have.

From the organizer point of view, it is important to create a correct bond between the two parts (the mentor – volunteer or the buddy – student). Randomly linking them would not be as efficient as personally selecting them according to their social profile (common interests, studies, age…). It would also be great to organize some workshops with the new mentors and train them, as well as providing them support during the whole process. On the volunteer part, reflecting formal feedback periodically about their mentors would help solving the problems in case there was any, while also helping us keep track of everyone’s progress.


My experience in Poland

Before coming to Poland I had heard that I would get a mentor, so I talked to him in order to meet him as soon as I would arrive to Rzeszów. He picked me up at the station and gave me the apartment keys, also guided me to my new home.

During a month he helped me with some tasks and introduced me into many local people, which strongly helped me socializing at the beginning. Unfortunately, he had to move away from the city, so I spent some time without a mentor. It was already my second time living abroad so I did not feel the need of requesting another person to fill the spot, but later I met the mentor of a volunteer that was about to leave, and I thought it would be a good idea if she would take care of me afterwards.

Even though I might not request a big amount of help, having a mentor is still good as a partner, a person to go have a coffee and talk about your organization, your feelings or any other topic that you might want to discuss out of the “work atmosphere”. I am currently meeting my mentor at least once a week and I can say that I found a friend on her. There are different volunteers that met their mentors once and never heard from 

them anymore, and some volunteers that are really close to theirs. It is good to know that you can always request a new mentor if you don’t feel comfortable with yours, so it should not be a problem if you find yourself in this situation at any time of your stay.

 

Are mentors/buddies necessary?

There is no short answer for this question. What dictates if mentors are necessary or not is how well prepared are the volunteers. For example, a 18 year old volunteer that has never lived abroad and does not know the language of his stay country, that also describes himself as a shy person and with the inability to talk fluent English will strongly need a mentor, meanwhile a 28 years old volunteer which is fluent in English and with experience both at working and living abroad will not feel the necessity of anyone taking care of him. While those two being two sides of a coin, there is a huge range in between, so we will find totally different cases. Indeed, the mentor program is mandatory, no matter which case.

European Volunteer service will provide you the tools, but it is up to you to decide how to use them!