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COM to offer online orientation for Chinese grad students

Boston University’s College of Communication announced Monday that it will launch an online program this summer to assist Chinese graduate students with their assimilation into the university, the city of Boston and American culture.

The optional program will be an entirely online course system that deals with language and cultural issues, said Stephen Quigley, a COM associate professor of public relations who organized the program.

“The essential point of COM is that it is an English language-based communication college,” Quigley said. “Any non-native English speaker is going to have a challenge coming to an American university, but in a communication discipline, that challenge is going to be increased.”

The courses will begin July 1 and run through August. When the COM grad students arrive on the Charles River campus in September, the program will enter a second phase involving face-to-face interaction, Quigley said.

“There will be regular workshops with those students and those workshops will be led not just by faculty but also by current Chinese-speaking graduate students and Chinese-speaking graduates of COM,” he said. “… [The workshops] will help orient students not just to the COM environment but the internship and career environment.”

A similar online university-wide orientation program currently exists for international students, known as the Center for English Language and Orientation Programs, but it requires a supplementary charge, Quigley said.”

“There is an additional fee [for CELOP] and it’s not obviously COM-centric,” he said. “So this would really be the first time that COM has made an attempt to deal with these issues prior to enrollment.”

The program was one of four projects to receive seed grant funding from BU’s Digital Learning Initiative, which allocates university funds to support innovative efforts in the general topic of technology-based learning, said DLI Director Chris Dellarocas.

The DLI found COM’s proposal a valuable program to fund, said Dellarocas, a School of Management professor of information systems.

“We thought this was a very interesting idea to try out, both because this would solve concrete challenges COM is facing right now, but also because if successful, the idea can be generalized and applied more broadly on campus,” he said.

Dellarocas said the program addresses the culture shock felt by many international students at BU.

“We live in a world where we have an increasing number of foreign students coming to American universities,” Dellarocas said. “This, of course, is very welcome for a number of reasons, but also creates a number of challenges because we need to assimilate students who come from different cultures.”

Di Liu, an School of Management freshman from China, said while an online orientation would alleviate the generality of the on-campus orientation in terms of helping international students adjust, it eliminates the real-life experience on-campus orientation provides.

“It [online orientation] is going to be easier, but it’s going to be less fun, because when there’s orientation, teachers show you around the school and actually get you familiar with those schools,” Liu said “When it’s online, it’s kind of not that real.”

CAS sophomore and China native Hao Dong said that an online course could not substitute for the value of on-campus orientation.

“I did Common Ground, so I got to walk around the school and get to know it,” he said. “This is a new environment for international students, so I think that orientation is important for them to be familiar with the environment and the school.”

However, as an additional resource, an online program would be useful in helping incoming international grad students better understand American customs, Dong said.

Libo Tang, an SMG junior from China, said receiving American cultural immersion before arriving on campus would have aided him in adjusting to American life during his freshman year.

“My English was pretty bad at the time [freshman year], so I just didn’t communicate with any other people on my floor — I was just totally lost,” Tang said. “I think other people feel the same way as I did. If there’s some way to help them to get more involved with the American culture and environment that would be great.”

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