Bridging the gap: International students mentor one another


Graziele Balbinotti, Brazilian by birth, came to Chicago four years ago to learn English.

Since that time, Balbinotti mastered her English-speaking skills, and decided to stay with DePaul to pursue her graduate degree and give back to the community.

The International Student Exchange Experience, which Balbinotti oversees, met at 3 p.m. Friday, Jan. 6. The event, which took place at the DePaul Center,marked the first gathering of the quarter for international students and their mentors.

For over four years, the ISEE organization has offered international students a chance to get to know others in the DePaul community. The group was founded by students who were a part of the International Students & Scholar Services, or ISS.

The overall goal of ISEE is to pair new international students with a mentor. The mentor’s role in the process is to create not only a connection with the incoming international student, but to augment their experience to a higher quality.

This better experience, expressed in further detail from the student resources section on the DePaul website, is the cornerstone of the ISEE program. And, it is what shines through in the stories of the international students who come to the third largest city in the U.S. for an education.

The students who comprise the program come from all areas of the world, and the person in charge of coordinating the program, Balbinotti, is no exception. Balbinotti comes from Mato Grosso, a state in the western region of Brazil. Balbinotti said that she got the job by applying for a scholarship program offered by DePaul University. She is currently finishing a Master of Science degree in marketing. “I came here first to learn English,” Balbinotti said. “But I really liked DePaul so I decided to stay here.”

Balbinotti is just one of many international students who has come to DePaul, and she also is one of many who believes in the ISEE program.

“We make the transition of the international students easier,” Balbinotti said. “Sometimes, even in your own country, you’re not allowed to talk good about yourself, here you must if you want to get a job.”

Balbinotti also said that the way American culture is understood by international students is important, along with other aspects, such as how to behave in certain spaces.

Indeed, the ISEE program is a bridge to connect international pupils with DePaul, and one individual, Suras Soni, has come come to DePaul to study business. Soni is originally from Gujarat, which is a Western state in India. After finishing high school in India, Soni was invited to come to America by a leader in the Chief Executive Officers (CEO) Club, an organization whose parent company resides in the U.S..

According to the mission statement of the India branch, the CEO Club operates to represent India’s diversity in the academic and non-profit sectors. They also work to create and shape future leaders in the business field.

And while Soni’s freshman year was completed at California State University, he came to Chicago because of the entrepreneurship studies offered at DePaul. “Entrepreneurship has always been my major and it will continue to be,” said Soni. “And DePaul has been recognized for its entrepreneurship program.”

Soni is right. A study performed by Forbes ranked DePaul University 12th out of the top 50 schools recognized for entrepreneurship in 2016. Following this research, the Princeton Review made available a set of rankings in November 2016. According to their press release, DePaul University is in the top 25 in 2017 for undergraduate entrepreneurship schools, and is 13th for its graduate program.

After school, Soni hopes to start his own business, whether it be back home in India, here in America or abroad. Soni’s decision to be part of ISEE stems from his initial contact with the program last year. He was a mentee then, now Soni is a mentor.

Soni’s mentee, Immanuel Alman, is also from India but from the capital city, Mumbai. Mumbai is in the state of Maharashtra and is also the most populated area in the country. Alman decided to come to DePaul after visiting other universities across the U.S.. He finally settled on DePaul because of the graduate business program.

Alman has an undergraduate degree in mathematics, and has spent the last 10 years working in the fields of information technology and consulting within the region of Singapore. Singapore is an island city-state in Malaysia, located Southwest of India.

“I want to get my master’s degree here now,because I don’t want to make it too late before I realize I should have done something else,” Alman said.

Alman, 34, believes that it is never too late to go to school to try something new. He also said that he loves to travel, and will take a job anywhere in the world if the opportunity presents itself.

And while both the mentor and mentee expressed their desires to work anywhere, Balbinotti intends to return home to her native country of Brazil.

Balbinotti said once she is done at DePaul, she will return to the family business. “We have a farm, but it’s different from here. You don’t get into the tractors and all those things,” she said with a smile. “It’s more like managing, selling and marketing.”

For Balbinotti, 2017 marks her last year coordinating the ISEE program, and she will be responsible for assisting DePaul staff with finding her replacement.