This summer for the first time, the University of Pennsylvania launched an international student pre-orientation program in China for new students from China.
Penn welcomes over 6,000 international students, scholars and visiting faculty from all over the world each year. Students from China make up roughly 30 percent of the international students at Penn, which is the largest international student population on campus.
Organized by Penn Global and International Student and Scholar Services, the Forerunner 2015 program targeted the specific needs of Chinese students and their families. Held at the Penn Wharton China Center in Beijing, more than150 students and parents participated during the two day-long sessions that offered advice from current Penn students, Chinese alumni, a Penn parent, faculty and staff. In addition to the schools and centers, the Chinese Student and Scholar Association at Penn and Penn’s Graduate and Professional Student Assembly also played a role. The sessions ranged from navigating visa applications and port of entry to the United States to topics on securing housing, how to build new social networks and how to adjust culturally and academically as an international student.
“We saw this as an opportunity to jump start the process in preparing incoming Penn Chinese students to succeed in maximizing their Ivy League experience,” says Rudie Altamirano, director of International Student and Scholar Services in the Office of the Vice Provost for Global Initiatives.
“A primary goal of Forerunner is to empower students to become leaders during their time at Penn and to positively influence the experience of their peers on and off campus as well as know where to turn when they face challenges.” Altamirano says.
Yuhong He, an international specialist in Counseling and Psychological Services at Penn, who offers counseling in Mandarin and Cantonese and support to international students on campus, says supporting family members about ways to help and support one another far from home is also key to a student’s success.
“It is not unusual for family members to experience anxiety around sending a child or loved one overseas,” says He. “Even parents whose child attended high school or college in the U.S. before have questions. Thirty parents participated in Forerunner, and the feedback from them has been overwhelmingly positive. The program with its opportunity to connect with other parents and speak with University representatives seems to have provided a great sense of relief and an important reassurance to the whole family on the decision and investment in their child’s Penn journey.”
Yusi Wang attended the program from her hometown of Shenyang in the Liaoning province. She will enter the Huntsman Program this fall.
“My Forerunner experience was an amazing one!” Wang says. “Having met wonderful fellow incoming students, both undergraduate and graduate, and having heard advice from upperclassmen who had various academic and extra curricular backgrounds, I feel like I came out of Forerunner with more understanding of life at Penn and more friends whom I can meet with on Penn’s campus.”
Kevin Pitt, deputy director of the Office of Student Conduct at Penn, says taking part as a presenter in the Forerunner program in Beijing gave him a greater understanding of the student perspective.
“In addition to Forerunner being a wonderful opportunity to educate this talented and engaged group of students on the important issue of academic integrity, I learned a great deal from the students in China regarding their experience with challenges regarding immigration, travel and culture shock,” says Pitt. “The program really helped to build connections with these students before they enter the classrooms at Penn."
Sonya Gwak, director of student life and graduate admissions in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and a Penn alum, led a session on adjusting to campus life as an international student. Gwak was born in South Korea, raised in Ghana and came to Penn as a freshman in 1993.
"Navigating a new academic and social landscape as an international student can be exciting as well as daunting,” says Gwak. “But for those who have chosen to pursue a degree at Penn, their experience will be rewarded with life long friends, career networks and new perspectives. I look forward to seeing many of the students I met through Forerunner 2015 at Penn in the fall to launch on new adventures together."
Click here to view more photos from Forerunner 2015.