Tony Gurr

Need a BUDDY, buddy?

In ELT and ELL, Guest BLOGGERS, Our Universities on 05/03/2011 at 6:39 am

Mentoring is rapidly becoming a “hot topic” in Turkey – and not just with businessmen or educators / teachers.

Emre Gökhan Şahin, a student at Özyeğin University in Istanbul, is President of the Student Council and offered to share what he has learned from an innovative student mentoring project – the SBSS Project.

Gökhan is the first of our “guest-bloggers” this week – a student guest-blogger!

This post – his very first blog posting – is a great example of community-building, “giving back” (or “paying forward”) and of learners “learning” learners.

Gökhan – you will go far, my man!

I am a sophomore student studying Business Administration at Özyeğin University, Istanbul-Turkey. I wanted to share my experience on a project called the “SELI Buddy Support System”, a project in which students (in their faculties) who studied on the prep-program help current prep students in their studies.

While I was studying English in prep, I had some real “hard times” – as did many of my friends. We were the first students at our newly-founded university and we sometimes suffered because of the lack of “senior” students who had been through the same learning process we were going through.

Whether you believe it or not, talking to experienced peers who achieved what you are about to do and getting advice from them is the most powerful source of motivation.

I am sure that there must have been a time when you (as a student) did not feel comfortable asking your “teachers” questions; because, you probably thought that you would be the only person who did not know the answer.  I felt this way many times – throughout my education.

Although our teachers were great at telling us about the key methods of learning a new language, I did not consider all of them because I thought that all teachers had another agenda – making sure every student should just study more.

Unfortunately, I saw the light only after I failed the upper-intermediate level assessment test.

I had always been a successful student until then – I knew had to get my act together!

Feeling unsuccessful and being isolated from my classmates who had passed the course, I dedicated myself to working closely with my teachers and looking for the ways that could help me to learn, help me perform better.

Finally, my consistent efforts paid off. I passed…I moved onto my department.

Because I was a member of student union, I used to have many conversations with fellow students. For sure, the most common complaint was about the difficulty of the prep-program. I met some students who failed a level once and believed that they would never be able to learn English or even “finish” the prep program.

I knew I had to so something.

At first, I volunteered to help my friends with their studies. Mostly I shared my experience on how difficult it was to get used to a new language and which strategies helped me to overcome the obstacles – especially, the damage having a negative attitude could bring.

After helping them relax, I studied with them on the areas they had difficulty in.

When I heard that my friends had also finally passed the course, I felt so proud because my support had helped them.

Students that I helped were so pleased that they started coming with their friends. Sometimes group study turned into a “cry-on-my-shoulder” session, which helped me realize that there was a need for psychological support as well as academic study.

As the number of the people increased, I wanted to create a project from which all prep students can benefit. A voluntary project that aims to enhance the effectiveness of the learning environment through knowledge and experience sharing was something that our instructors really appreciated.

When I started working on planning the project with prep school faculty, they asked me to consider the following: try to avoid doing students’ homework for them, teaching new objectives, and interfering with the thinking process in feedback interpretation.

After we decided on the ground rules together, we began to build our team with the full support from prep faculty.

When we started the project two years ago we had 5 buddies currently there are 13 of us. Each of us in the team has had a different experience in terms of the challenges we faced and what we did to cope – this is a great advantage to the project.

When it comes to how the system works, it is quite easy.

We are using the student union’s office and available “buddy” hours are posted as a time table on the door (with an e-mail address). If a student wants to get support from us, he/she simply informs the “buddy” via e-mail at least one hour before coming.

Like teachers – we need preparation time especially when the request is for group study.

In the feedback we gather, which is shared with the prep faculty periodically, generally students visit us to study grammar and get feedback on their presentations.

Of course, you may wonder what happens if “the buddies” teach something “wrong”?

This is a crucial question. Although all our “students” are supposed to be aware that we are not professionals (but students like them), we try to reduce this risk by openly telling them that we do not know enough to answer every question.

If we do not feel comfortable about a particular topic, we advise them to see their instructors. Or the other option is that we can send an e-mail to the participant about the subject after we study it. This is great – as we also get the benefit of improving our own language skills even more. In addition, online communication provides flexibility and students can contact us regardless of the time table.

Honestly, this project is one of the best things that I have been a part of.

Seeing freshman students (who benefited from the SBSS project) sign up as “new members” of the “buddy team”, gives me hope for the future and the energy to continue.

Instead of (just) “book learning”, we have the chance to experience and contribute to “real learning”.

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