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For many Chinese graduate students at the College of Communication, Boston can seem like another world, with an unfamiliar second language, expectations that students speak more in class than back home, and assignments to write about an unfamiliar culture. (Just what the heck is Halloween?)

Technology may offer a partial solution. Starting next week, COM is launching online workshops and a weekly webinar to introduce entering grad students from China to their school and the United States before they put a toe on campus. Face-to-face workshops will replace the online ones once students arrive at BU, continuing through the 2014–2015 academic year, says Stephen Quigley (SED’87), associate professor of public relations and one of the two designers of the initiative. The other is COM Assistant Dean Micha Sabovik (COM’96,’06).

The initiative was paid for with a grant from BU’s Digital Learning Initiative. Quigley discussed the new program with Bostonia.

Bostonia: How many Chinese students have signed up?

Quigley: Registration is still open, but we’ve received very enthusiastic responses so far. COM accepted 43 Chinese-speaking graduate students for Fall 2014, and we anticipate 25 to 30 will opt to enroll in this optional program.

What will happen during the workshops? That is, can you describe what the experience will be like for a student taking it?

Most of the learning during the summer will happen asynchronously—that is, students will participate in the learning exercises and access the many resources we’re building into this portal at their own pace and their own time. They’ll learn what to expect at BU and COM, including how BU/COM teaching styles and classroom expectations may differ from what they’ve experienced as undergrads in China. We’ll emphasize basic English writing formats, skills, challenges, and expectations, as well as some of the spoken English language challenges and nuances. Faculty from each of COM’s academic departments will introduce students to other faculty, programs, and expectations and provide department-specific information and guidance.

We’ve also recruited a team of current Chinese-speaking COM graduate students who represent all of our departments and programs. Those students will serve as online mentors as well as face-to-face mentors when students arrive in September. We are also recruiting English-speaking COM graduate students who will connect with our Chinese-speaking students on campus. One of our Chinese-speaking faculty members, Mina Tsay-Vogel, an assistant professor of mass communications, advertising, and public relations, will provide students with guidance on a rich array of cultural, language, and learning “adjustments” and expectations.

The students will also be introduced to COM staff and services, such as COM Career Services, the COM Writing Center, faculty internship coordinators, and COM Student Services.

There’ll be one form of synchronous learning during the summer: weekly webinars. Each webinar will be led by a COM faculty and/or staff member, and occasionally our Chinese-speaking COM students. These sessions will allow students, faculty, and staff to interact and address questions and concerns in real time. Those webinars will be archived for students who may have been unable to attend at the date and time. We have also recruited COM Chinese-speaking alumni to participate in the program. In addition to sharing their guidance on how to succeed in COM, they will offer post-graduation career insights and advice.

Have you gotten any indication from the enrollees what topics they’d like to cover?

Yes, we’ve received lots of suggestions from entering students and current Chinese-speaking COM students. Their suggestions range from day-to-day concerns such as housing, dining, transportation, weather, web access, etc. to more academic and career-related concerns, such as tips for working on group projects, grading, writing, faculty expectations, internships, managing embarrassment when answering in-class questions in English, and career options and challenges in the US.

One of the goals of this program is to learn from our Chinese-speaking students. The insights and best practices we gain from these students this year will be shared with COM faculty and staff, as well as the broader BU community.