My name is Gina Marchini and I am a third-year Graphic Design and Advertising Major. Since I was younger, my dream has been to travel the world. It fascinates me to see new places and learn new things. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to travel abroad while at UF, but I have had the opportunity to meet amazing people who live all over the world. In my sophomore year, I joined an organization called Navigators, which is a mentorship program that pairs an American UF student with a study abroad or international student. The Navigator becomes the international student’s first friend on campus and gets to show them what life here is like. I went in hoping I would make a new friend, but I left with much more: a loving family that reaches all parts of the world.

It all started when I got paired with my first mentee, Daniel. Daniel and I were very different, but surprisingly enough we worked well together. The beauty of this organization is not only do you get to open the eyes of your international mentee to American culture, you get to learn about their culture as well. I took Daniel to eat his first Chick-Fil-A meal, see the bats at Lake Alice, and most importantly experience his first football game in the Swamp. Our adventures did not stop there. Each time we hung out we grew our international family. We ended up having buddies that came from all over the world: France, Germany, the Netherlands, Jordan, Japan, Austria, Spain, Australia, England and India.

When I tell y’all we did everything together, I mean it. We did work at Marston, baked cookies, watched movies, went on trips, played sport…we did it all! Another cool experience was when my worlds collided and I was working an event as a Cicerone for the international students. I was able to take a picture with my mentees alongside President Fuchs. However, one of the best moments was when a group of students came back to my hometown and celebrated their first Thanksgiving with my family. I will never forget the look of awe in their eyes when they saw the turkey come out of the oven, and how excited they were after trying sweet potato casserole. It was emotional because we got to share a holiday that is about giving thanks to the amazing people in our lives.

I will always be grateful for all the memories I have shared and will continue to share with my mentees. Our time together at UF was short, but I know I will keep in touch with my international family forever. Even though they are back home, I still managed to keep a little piece of our family alive here on campus. Like I said, not only do you teach your mentees about your culture but they also teach you. My Dutch student taught me the importance of a good bike, so keep an eye out for me around campus on my new set of wheels.

Photos taken prior to COVID-19