Prepping students in China

BY CHRIS HIGGINS | JULY 13, 2015 5:00 AM

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BEIJING — College orientation is certainly familiar: PowerPoints, skittish and inquisitive parents, soon-to-be college students being shuttled from ballroom to ballroom.

Only this time, it wasn’t at the IMU, but at the St. Regis Hotel in Beijing, where the University of Iowa hosted its third pre-departure session. The UI also hosts a similar event in Shanghai.

The session is similar to a standard UI Orientation but for Chinese students in China.

“They’ve made us feel really comfortable,” soon-to-be UI freshman Shaoxuan Li said about the orientation.

For the event, Li joined roughly 60 future students with her parents in Beijing. They join what officials expect to be another record-breaking year for the UI’s international student population, which pushed 4,400 last school year, a growth largely driven by students from China.

International students will also attend an Orientation geared toward them once on campus.

A number of the attendants all agreed the event was extremely helpful and wished the program could be expanded to involve more students or hit more cities in China.

“I think they should enlarge them so everybody knows,” said UI sophomore Jingwen Liu, who was present. “The imagination needs the information. We have to base it on something to think about what we should prepare for school.”

Associate business Dean Ken Brown, one of the UI officials in attendance, said expansion hasn’t been discussed yet, but he planned to bring it up — given that adding a third city would be economically viable.

As for a longer session, Brown pointed to Ohio State University’s two-day pre-departure orientations in Beijing and in Shanghai — also in their third year — which run with the help of more student volunteers.

Ohio State’s orientations involved more than 200 students this year and included alumni receptions. Many, but not all, Big Ten universities have some sort of pre-departure event in China.

“We may get to that point,” Brown said. “We’re building alumni support. We’re building an alumni base, but for now, this format of three hours, two large cities seems to be working.”

Incoming freshman Sapphiro Gao said the event answered every question she had in preparation to come to Iowa, such as about what to pack. She said she plans to pursue the pre-business program as well as join clubs, but she isn’t sure which ones yet.

“I’m just excited because it’s a whole new environment,” she said. “I’ll meet new people and make new friends, and it’s totally different from here. I’m excited.”

Gao’s mother echoed her daughter’s belief that the session answered all of her questions, saying simply the event was “feichang hao,” or very good.

The session included a special section for parents to learn about the resources available at the UI and ask myriad questions of Suyun Ma, global external relations coordinator for UI International Programs.

Many of the soon-to-be students interviewed said they were most concerned about integrating into American culture and using English well.

“I’m very worried about if I can understand what the professors are saying,” said future freshman William Cao, who will study biology.

Brown said it’s imperative the UI invest in ensuring international students — who pay a far higher price tag than resident students — have the best experience possible for the sake of everyone on campus, whether through pre-departure sessions or numerous programs on campus.

“We’ve gotten to a point where we value the students who are coming from a different culture, and we want them to succeed, and we’re going to invest in their success the same way we invest in a student from Des Moines,” Brown said.

Brown suggested the domestic-student orientation should be designed to help prepare that segment for what the international students are like.

“We do some of that, but we need to be doing an even better job,” he said. “We need to be challenging a student who’s coming from Chicago, you know, look, you drove.

Additional reporting by Hannah Adamson.

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