New friends. New courses. New connections. New memories.
Every student arriving at William & Mary looks forward to many of the same opportunities, but for incoming international students the excitement may also be tempered by questions. How do I get to campus from a regional airport? Will course requirements be anything like my experiences in my home country? How often will I get to see my parents? And what exactly is it like at W&M?
On June 29, William & Mary held its first overseas New Student and Family Program for more than 100 incoming graduate and undergraduate students and families in Beijing, China. For three hours at the Hilton Hotel, participants were able to speak with current William & Mary international students home for the summer, 14 W&M undergraduates participating in the university’s faculty-led summer study abroad program in Beijing and various Tribe alumni living in China.
William & Mary faculty and staff were also on hand to provide information and advice, including Mark Sikes, associate dean of students and director of orientation; Emily Hogge, immigration specialist and orientation coordinator in the Office of International Students, Scholars and Programs; and Emily Wilcox, visiting assistant professor of Chinese and program director of the 2013 W&M summer study abroad program in Beijing.
“The Chinese Undergraduate Student Association originally approached Yanfang Tang, director of the William & Mary Confucius Institute, with the idea to host an event in China,” said Sikes.
“I sent out an interest survey to incoming students accepted from China and was shocked that 24 hours later every single person had responded to the interest survey. That really gave us the evidence that a reception in China was an important event to host.”
Other areas of the university, including the Reves Center for International Studies and the Alumni Association, saw an opportunity to connect with various W&M community members in China, the home of origin of approximately 60 percent of William & Mary’s international student and scholar population, and partnered with the William & Mary Confucius Institute (WMCI), Chinese Undergraduate Student Association (CUSA) and the Office of the Dean of Students to host the event.
“In American higher education, students and their families develop a special relationship to their college or university,” noted Steve Sechrist, director of the Office of International Students, Scholars and Programs at the Reves Center.
“This relationship is fostered by special on-campus programs such as Admitted Students Day and Family Weekend. However, due to distance, these programs are often inaccessible to international students and their parents. Offering a New Student and Family Program in Beijing enabled W&M to be more inclusive in our engagement with our international community.”
The afternoon orientation session covered four areas: the history and background of William & Mary, W&M’s four graduate schools, the demographics of the university as a whole and services and resources for international students at W&M. Wilcox also delivered a keynote speech, in Mandarin, on the academic culture of W&M.
Current international students Patrick Li ‘14 and Dan Chen ‘15, president and vice president of the Chinese Undergraduate Student Association, facilitated with translations throughout the afternoon and sat on a student panel alongside new alumna Yuying Wang, J.D. ‘13 and Beijing study abroad participant Harini Manikand ‘15.
The panel offered information on clubs and activities at the university, how to balance academics and extracurricular activities, and safety on campus and in Williamsburg, as well as offered advice to new students.
“This program helps the new students to get more familiar with William & Mary,” said Wang. “For many of them, this will be their first time at a U.S. university, so it helps them feel more confident. We are all members of a big family. This is very warm.”
Anna Yuan, an incoming undergraduate student, left the event feeling even more confident of her university choice.
“People were extremely friendly and everyone was passionate about life. Everyone was smiling. The new students have a very positive attitude,” she said.
For Hogge, who coordinates William & Mary’s international student orientations on campus each summer, the program was an innovative way to bring together many aspects of the university for the students and families prior to each student’s travel to Williamsburg.
“The Beijing orientation was a great opportunity for new students to become part of the William & Mary community before they’ve even arrived on campus. It’s also a great way for international parents, who don’t often get to visit campus, to make connections with the greater W&M community.”
In hosting this year’s overseas orientations, William & Mary joins the ranks of many other universities welcoming their international students on their home soil, though Sikes believes William & Mary’s event to be unique due to the enthusiasm of all participants.
“While in Beijing, there was another college event across the hall from us,” he said. “The staff came over to our event to take pictures and use them for their own purposes simply because they were amazed at the overwhelming pride and excitement that was displayed by the newest members of the W&M family.”