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Syracuse in Shanghai Program Gives International Students an Orange Experience
International students planning to attend Syracuse University for the 2020-2021 school year knew it was going to be a different experience. The global pandemic has presented challenges to all students, but for first year international students, travel restrictions posed a distinct dilemma. How do they commit to Syracuse University and get to know their classmates when they can’t travel to Syracuse?
“These are students new to our Syracuse family who, like all of our first-year students, don’t know exactly what it means to be a university student before attending college,” says Erika Wilkens, assistant provost and executive director of Syracuse Abroad. “While the University has made every effort to virtually welcome and support students unable to join us on campus in the fall, we also wanted to find a way to offer a supported residential experience to as many as possible.”
To address this dilemma for incoming students from China, Syracuse University partnered with the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) and East China Normal University to establish a program for international students in Shanghai, China where they could bond with others in their cohort, despite COVID-19 related travel restrictions. The program gave 253 students an opportunity to connect with other Orange undergraduates and familiarize themselves with the routines of first-year students at a U.S. university.
The fall program allowed international students in Shanghai to combine in-person classes with Syracuse University courses on-line, spend time with their peers and become more familiar with the American-style teaching. Students participated in excursions to learn more about Shanghai and had professional development opportunities, such as visiting companies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Students in the program also had opportunities to engage with the main campus through a series of virtual forums and workshops designed to set them up for success, with sessions on learning how to navigate online University systems and how to communicate effectively with professors and advisors.
The Orange family in China—alumni and current students—also reached out to the new students. Nearly 30 alums in Shanghai (representing all major SU schools and colleges) held a special welcome session at the orientation to share their experiences at SU and introduce the “Orange spirit.” Members of the Chinese students’ association organized a mid-autumn celebration show and performance, as well as a Halloween Party.
An international partnership program like this typically takes up to 18 months to two years to become fully operational. However, with the onset of the global pandemic in March, Syracuse Abroad and its campus partners needed to work much faster. The Syracuse in Shanghai program was created in just a few months. Syracuse Abroad closely worked with schools and colleges, in particular the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School, the academic home of most of the Shanghai-bound students.
“I think for the University, this has been a really important learning experience in terms of a major cross-division collaborative effort around shared goals. People were just amazing,” said Wilkens.
“In addition to our colleagues at the schools and colleges, we worked closely with Admissions, the Center for International Services, the Office of Budget and Planning, the Bursar’s Office and the Registrar’s Office. The University has never done anything like this before.” The process was complicated and challenging, with issues like academic programming, student services, health and safety being top priorities.
Wilkens says the Syracuse in Shanghai program is a real testament to the importance of and commitment to broader internationalization at Syracuse University. “I think it’s really brought to the forefront how many international students we have and the unique challenges they face,” she said. It also served as an example of the complexities involved supporting international students with staff working remotely amidst a global health crisis. “There is no way we could have done it without pulling together as one University. People went above and beyond.”
Learning from their experience in the fall, Syracuse Abroad will be offering a second program in the city of Chongqing at Southwest University in China for Spring 2021. Wilkens says she is happy that when these international students eventually arrive in Central New York, they will be coming with an Orange cohort and have an identity as part of Syracuse University. “We want them to feel recognized and cared for. That is our goal.”