Several bright-eyed students were seen during the first few days of school roaming around in white T-shirts labeled “SISA.” The “SISA” logo, which stands for Seoul International School Ambassadors, indicated members of the buddy program, an initiative focused on actively welcoming new high school students. The program, recently revived by high school counselors Chris Thomson and Mercy Jesudass, selected 44 returning students to serve as tour guides and companions. The buddy program was widely acclaimed by both teachers and students for its newly introduced aspects of formal training sessions for buddies and increased personal interaction.
Unlike last year’s buddy program, which only required buddies to individually email new students over the summer, this year’s program coached buddies and arranged more activities for the student pairs. From the third week of March to nearly the end of the previous school year, members of the buddy program were required to attend six training sessions. Each session was dedicated to learning a specific skill, such as how to start conversations or find commonalities with respective partners. Trainees further practiced newly learned material though role-playing and other practices with Gray Macklin, advisor for testing and student services.
“This year, we were taught [by the counselors]how to approach the new students and make them feel more at home,” said Yena Lee (10), a returning buddy program member. “I felt somewhat nervous having to talk to [someone I had never met before], but I think my training helped greatly in making me feel more confident. Instead of just waiting for my [new student partner]to come talk to me and ask me questions, this year I felt I could go up to her first and ask, ‘How’s school?’ without hesitation.”
The extended buddy schedule not only provided program members with better guidance, but also allowed partners more time to get to know each other. Buddies started interacting with their partners via email during the summer and first met on orientation day. Once school started, buddies wore customized T-shirts during office hours and activity period to be more easily identifiable for any new student who needed help.
“My buddies were really nice and I easily got close to them, especially because I shared a common interest of sports with one of my buddies,” said Youngjoon Yun (10), a new student. “I feel like they tried really hard to help me. I even ate lunch outside of school with my buddies after the orientation.”
Buddies, including Sabin Macklin (11), felt the renewed buddy program not only helped new students feel more welcome at SIS, but also came with benefits to the existing student buddies. Sabin, as well as other buddies, quickly realized the fun of helping new students and found themselves opening up to actively guide their new student buddies.
“Before, I rarely interacted with anyone I did not know since I already had my friends,” said Karen Joo (10), buddy program member. “I feel like I improved my social skills of approaching people through the scenarios we went through during training sessions. I now feel more compelled to talk to new students who were not my assigned buddies and make new friends.”
According to Ms. Jesudass, although it is still early to see how the new students are transitioning into SIS, the noticeable increase of voluntary student initiative in helping the new students further than what buddies are asked to do presents a positive outlook. Counselors will continue to meet with new students throughout the beginning of the year via both personal sessions and group events such as the annual pizza lunch that was held on Aug. 25.
“I came recently in eighth grade when we didn’t have this kind of program,” said Yunah Han (10), buddy program member. “I feel like [the revived buddy program]would have helped me feel a lot more relaxed [at SIS]with someone by my side willing to listen and always offer a helping hand. I loved my title as a buddy where I had the opportunity to approach new students more freely. When my partner told me she was so happy to have me as a buddy, I felt proud of all my hard work this year.”