From a castle to Kingston

First-year students at the Bader Centre see new measures to ensure smooth transition to Queen’s

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Aaron Tang’s favourite part of spending first-year at Herstmonceux Castle was weekend trips to Amsterdam and Paris.

Tang, ArtSci ’16, came to Queen’s Kingston campus in 2012, after studying for a year at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) in southeast England.

Located in the village of Herstmonceux, Queen’s castle has approximately 2,600 residents.

The castle is isolated three kilometres southeast of the village, making it a sequestered environment for students.

Coming to the Kingston campus, Tang said, felt like stepping into a larger environment.

“You see more people at Queen’s,” he said, “and you feel less isolated in a way.”

Tang applied to both Queen’s main campus and the BISC in high school, and decided to spend first-year at the castle in order to travel.

He said he wasn’t concerned about coming to Queen’s after spending first-year abroad.

Through joining clubs, attending events and going to class, Tang said he made new friends when he came to Kingston in second-year.

“If you spend a year somewhere else and travel, and then come back to Canada, you won’t be nervous at all,” he said.

“I didn’t feel like I missed out on the first-year experience of living in residence and meeting friends, because I still met people after and I met friends of friends.”

Though Tang felt prepared to come to Queen’s once he returned to Canada, many students who study at the BISC need an established support system to help them with their transition.

The BISC Buddy Mentorship Program, managed by Queen’s Student Experience Office and formed in 2012, “aims to ease the transition of students for their first year of study at the BISC to their second year at Queen’s University’s Kingston campus,” according to their website.

Gavin Clark, ArtSci ’16 and a BISC Mentor Leader, said the group acts as a middleman for students coming to Queen’s for the first time.

All BISC Mentor Leaders are students who attended the castle in their first-year, and use their transition experience to help younger students.

“We want to take the castle students and transition them into Kingston,” Clark said. “Everything that they’re going through was something that we’ve been through. We’ve experienced it as much as they have.”

Clark came to Kingston after spending first-year at the castle and went to the BISC Buddy Mentorship Program orientation. He said he became more involved by attending networking workshops and events and meeting new people, and believes he’ll be a part of the mentorship group for his entire university career.

“If you want to be a part of the Queen’s community and really settle in, you can be a part of it as long as you want to,” he said. “It’s a give-and-take relationship. As much as you put into it you’ll get out of it.”

The mentorship group receives a list of all first-year students at the castle who will be studying in Kingston the following year, and they target them for the program. Each leader is given 10-20 students to work with and mentor.

The incoming students can decide whether or not they would like to be a BISC Mentee.

Clark said the main concern for these students is the same as any other student.

“It’s the transition of moving away. You’re in a totally new environment, you’ve never been here before and you’re living on your own,” he said.

“One of the big concerns is finding housing. You’re entering Kingston and you’re a student. You didn’t have the residence experience, so you’re kind of jumping right into a house.” Some mentees feel nervous about making friends, fitting in and understanding Kingston as well as students that have lived here a year before them, Clark added.

Michelle MacLean, ArtSci ’16, had this concern when she was coming to the Kingston campus in second-year, after studying at the castle.

“I was nervous about getting lost,” MacLean said. “The castle is almost like you’re going to a high school because you’re only going to one building for classes — as opposed to Queen’s, where it’s a whole campus and you have to find your way around.”

MacLean only applied to the BISC out of high school — rather than both Kingston and the BISC — because the castle appealed to her more.

“The whole program seemed really cool because it was in England and I could travel on top of doing school work and decide what I wanted to do when I was there,” she said.

While at the castle, MacLean travelled to places like Venice, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, Dublin and Barcelona.

Coming to the Kingston campus in second-year wasn’t too bad, she said — even if her time in Kingston has been less exciting.

“I had made some friends in first-year, so I had people who were in the same position as me,” she said.

“Every day at the castle was more of an adventure because you’re living in a different country, so everyday was a new trip, and at Queen’s, you can’t do that.”

MacLean said she has found that classes and interactions with teachers are different at Queen’s than at the BISC.

“The teachers at the castle were very hands-on, because the classrooms were so small — only about 20 kids in a class,” she said. “At the castle you could talk to the teachers anywhere or time, because you saw them walking around, whereas Queen’s, you have to set up a meeting with them.”

When she came to Queen’s in second-year, MacLean added, she found it harder to meet new people.

“It’s different at the castle because you’re making friends a lot more rapidly, as opposed to Queen’s, because you’re going places and you have to pick roommates and who you’re going to stay with in different countries,” she said.

“Everyone in first-year tends to form their groups with the people they met in residence so it’s hard to make new friends. Everyone already knows each other, and you’re kind of the new kid that comes in in second-year.”

Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Arig al Shaibah said the Student Experience Office has been focusing on identifying problems students have in their transition from the castle to the Kingston campus.

“We’ve been keeping an eye out, doing surveys and focus groups to gain data about what the experience and the needs are if any new programming is necessary,” al Shaibah said.

While no large problems have surfaced from these surveys, al Shaibah said, only a small number of students have participated. Twenty of 117 students responded to the 2014 Second-Year Transition Survey.

She added that these students have many sources they can go to if they need help with the transition, including the Student Experience Office, the BISC Buddy Mentorship Program and the Castle Connections Group, an organization that connects students at Queen’s who have attended the BISC at different times.

al Shaibah said these students are nervous about integrating themselves into the new community, and how they’ll meet students across their discipline when coming to the Kingston campus.

“They feel like they’re one year behind their colleagues,” she said.

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