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‘What home means to me’: International students reflect on IMP’s 25th anniversary

IMP mentors, mentees reminisce on finding community, support, lifelong friends

Yeuen Kim ’92 MD’96 P’24.5 P’26’s grandmother always taught her to “close her wings.” That is, wear an outfit with coordinated colors. 

As she rushed to her community coordinator interview in 1988, then a first-year at Brown, Kim wore a chartreuse green corduroy mini-skirt with matching tights and a light blue corduroy button-down — an ensemble she took to dances hosted by Brown International Orientation, or BRIO, throughout the year. 

Kim, who was originally born in Boston and moved to Korea for high school, also participated in the week-long international student orientation, or IO, hosted by BRIO. “BRIO introduced (international students to each other) very early on,” Kim said. 

Arriving with her suitcase full of heels and formal skirts, Kim moved into a deserted Everett-Poland, but soon found support in the panels held during IO.


In 1999, three years after Kim’s graduation from Warren Alpert Medical School, the program evolved into the International Mentoring Program, better known as IMP, started by a student offering “peer support to incoming international students,” according to GBC’s website. The program maintained much of BRIO's social activity while expanding the support mechanisms offered to international students. From there, a group of international students helped further organize International Orientation, or IO. In 2011, IMP expanded IO to a four-day program. In 2023, the orientation was extended to six days. And this spring, IMP celebrates its 25th anniversary.  

The program now organizes pre-arrival communication, yearlong peer mentorship, workshops on campus life and academics and social events.

Currently, IMP is made up of about 26 mentors, each of whom are randomly assigned to multiple freshmen mentees. During the summer before their freshman year, each mentee also receives a summer contact, who is typically from the same home country or an adjacent country. Mentors and mentees are obligated to meet at certain times throughout semesters. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, IMP’s orientation has undergone significant changes over the past few years. 

Ahmad Al Khatib ’23 attended the last in-person IMP orientation held before COVID-19. Similar to BRIO, his orientation heavily emphasized  “social activity.” 

“You get to form very real relationships at the beginning,” Al Khatib added. He remembers sitting on the floor of Sayles playing trivia with other incoming international freshmen. Though he wasn’t particularly interested in trivia itself, he said the welcoming atmosphere made it one of his favorite events of orientation. In his senior year, eight of the 11 people Al Khatib lived with were students he met through IMP. 

The next year, in 2020, Al Khatib helped lead orientation as a mentor. He recalled some mentors holding calls over Zoom at 3 a.m. to accommodate students across time zones. 

“We were having more vulnerable sessions about experiences as an international student and finding home elsewhere,” Al Khatib said. “My highlight of working in IMP as a mentor and mentee is allowing myself the agency to explore what home means to me.” 

Tuning in from Korea, Claire Yoonsoo Park ‘24 was one of the freshmen who took part in these Zoom calls. IMP and the Global Brown Center were instrumental in connecting her to the Brown community, she said.

“The support that I got from my mentor to create relationships and transition to Brown was really nice,” Park added. 


The next year, with Park as a mentor, IMP helped organize a hybrid orientation. That year, Aboud Ashhab ’25, one of Al Khatib’s mentees, made “fond memories” during his orientation that would lead him to become a mentor himself. 

He recalled a night tour through Providence, with crowds of international freshman students who still barely knew what the campus looked like during the day.

IMP “allows (students) to navigate the Brown community very easily,” Ashhab said. In addition to meeting with his mentees, Ashhab also helped organize a career-building workshop — one of IMP’s newer initiatives. 

In 2022, IMP returned to in-person orientation. As Ruth Ukubay ’26 was traveling to Providence, she was worried about logistics of the hours of travel ahead of her from Ethiopia. When she arrived at the Providence Amtrak station, IMP members were waiting to pick her up.

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“From the moment I got to Providence, IMP has been a safe space,” Ukubay said. 

Later during the week, Ukubay joined fellow international students for a barbeque on Ruth Simmons Quad where she was introduced to other students she would soon become close with. In fact, she “lost (her) balance and fell on someone” who is now one of her closest friends.

When Ukubay applied as a mentor, she wanted the opportunity to “give back.” The next year, she picked up her mentees from the airport.

Throughout the years, coordinators have taken charge of larger groups of students and plan bonding events through IMP. Many of the events are annual, including pumpkin carving, cookie decorating and, most famously, the IMP Gala.

This year, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of IMP, the gala’s cake wished IMP a “happy birthday.”

IMP Gala was the first event that Park planned as coordinator. That year, she helped decide to have the dance in Kasper Multipurpose Room. The next year, she planned a Winter Wonderland-themed gala in Sayles Hall. 

The gala is Ukubay’s favorite event. She remembered realizing the program's strength as she saw all the freshman mentees come together. 

“It’s amazing how the network is growing. IMP is one of the communities that works at Brown,” Ukubay said. “That’s something that I will remember even after graduating.” 

And while the attire changed from chartreuse corduroy to long formal dresses, the sentiment of the dances remains the same: a feeling amid a crowded room that, as Ashhab said, “everyone knows everyone.” 


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