Visiting scholars find home away from home
When Sathish Raja met former Carolina Clinical Professor Bobbie Lubker and her husband, Lynn, he never imagined how strong their relationship would grow.
“We’ve become close friends, more like a family,’’ said Raja, a postdoctoral research associate in the department of biology. “It’s something I never expected. I feel like I’m at home – a second home in the U.S.”
Last year, Raja, of Bangalore, India, and dental researcher Jinsong Pan of Shanghai, China, met the Lubkers through the Academic Retirees as Liaisons for International Scholars (ARLIS) – a new program organized by Carolina’s Retired Faculty Association (RFA) that pairs former faculty with scholars coming to campus from other countries. While the program’s intent is largely to assist the scholars with acclimation to campus life and American culture, the overriding result can be a feeling of a home away from home for the scholars.
Lubker, former RFA president, began thinking about forming ARLIS after years of hosting international high school students and Rotary Scholars.
etired faculty member Bobbie Lubker and her husband, Lynn, hosted international visiting scholars Sathish Raja (India) and Jinsong Pan (China) through the Academic Retirees as Liaisons for International Scholars program, sponsored by Carolina’s Association of Retired Faculty.
Carolina has wonderful student programs, she said, but there was an opportunity for retired faculty to do more to support postdocs, visiting faculty and other scholars.
So Lubker contacted Elizabeth Barnum, director of Carolina’s International Student and Scholar Services. They sent an email to RFA members seeking mentors, and more than 25 members – including a former dean, faculty members, researchers and a past chair of the faculty — volunteered for the initial 12 mentor spots.
When they invited international scholars to apply to participate, 56 responded. The selected scholars and retired faculty mentors were matched at a reception in spring 2016, with some RFA mentors working with multiple scholars. Scholars do not live with the retired faculty, but meet in many places for coffee and conversation.
Barnum said the matches were made, in some cases, with shared interests or research expertise in mind. They also considered factors such as how relationships could span from professional, scholarly support for younger scholars to a more collegial relationship for older scholars.
Through the mentors, professional support can run the gamut, including help with grant writing, guidance on the faculty review and promotion system and suggestions on free campus offerings such as movies and lectures.
That support also extends to practical advice for everyday living – transportation, customs, dating, children – often shared over casual meals. Mentors have arranged museum visits, swim outings for scholars’ families and walks through nearby forests.
Raja, 29, who also lived in Germany and England, said the program has broadened his thinking.
“Before coming to the U.S., my thoughts were that Americans always move fast forward with no time for cultural activities or family,” Raja said. “Then I met Bobbie and Lynn, and those very stereotypical thoughts were totally shattered.”
After the program’s first few months, ARLIS is evaluating ways to make the program even better.
One thing that won’t change: “Relationships,” Lubker said.
“The scholars all say that the most rewarding part has been relationships, not just with their faculty friend, but with the other scholars they’ve met,” Lubker said. “Many find themselves in an American home for the first time, but they’ve also gotten to know scholars from other countries. And they rely on each other.”