“My name is ‘Sheetza,’” Shanghai native and Wake Forest senior Xizi Liao says when introducing herself. “It rhymes with pizza.”
Liao has learned to embrace American culture and education — having held several leadership positions during her first four years of college, including president of the Resident Student Association. Not all international students are as determined to adjust to college life in America as Liao, nor do they all find the support they need when they arrive on campus.
Liao is one of 143 international undergraduate students who call Wake Forest home, and one of nearly 200,000 students from China enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities.
To bridge the academic and cultural differences between educational experiences in their home country and those in the U.S., Wake Forest is introducing the Wake Forest Advantage program. The initiative is designed to help international students prepare for higher education in the U.S. before they arrive on campus.
Piloted and rolling out first in China, the program is designed to benefit both the students who complete the program and the institutions that enroll them.
Chinese students sometimes struggle academically and socially once they arrive in the U.S., in part because admissions offices lack the information or validation they need to choose among Chinese applicants. In addition to language and cultural barriers, challenges arise from a significant number of falsified application documents, letters of recommendation and high school transcripts submitted by prospective students.
Wake Forest Advantage is the only program of its kind to address the challenges higher education faces in determining which international applicants are prepared for study in the U.S. and which may have trouble adjusting.
Addressing the so-called “China conundrum”
The goals for the curriculum, designed by Wake Forest faculty and developed collaboratively with EdisonLearning, are to help improve oral and written English skills while increasing students’ awareness and understanding of performance expectations in American college classrooms. Sessions include lessons on academic research, writing, and speaking and provide students with practice working collaboratively with their peers. The activities include content that helps Chinese students understand American culture and history.
There are three models available to Chinese families:
The first model, the traditional Wake Forest Advantage program, is an after school supplementary model with teachers employed and trained by Wake Forest. The program runs in collaboration with partner high schools. Students and teachers meet once a week for three hours — providing Chinese students with approximately 90 hours of educational and cultural training.
The second model for the program is the embedded Wake Forest Advantage, where schools in China use the traditional Wake Forest-designed curriculum within the regular school day. These schools have their own expat instructors who are trained by Wake Forest to deliver 90 hours of training during normal instructional hours.
Finally, the Wake Forest Summer Academy incorporates much of the content and methodology from the traditional and embedded models delivered in a shorter time frame (72 contact hours). Wake Forest professors, alumni from the Wake Forest Teacher Education programs, and students currently enrolled in Wake Forest Teacher Education programs deliver the instruction.
Students in the traditional and embedded programs create a Digital Portfolio — a video-based reflection that combines student performance in class with video reflections composed by and delivered orally on camera by the student.
Created by the student in China, evaluated at Wake Forest University, and mailed directly from Wake Forest to the colleges and universities where program participants apply for admission in the United States, this validation of students’ abilities provides admissions officers with incontrovertible visual and audio confirmation about their Chinese applicants’ readiness.
Each student’s application arrives at U.S. college admissions offices in a distinctive package, with a Wake Forest Advantage logo and a gold, silver or bronze seal. Gold signifies that the student presented in the portfolio is ready for the most challenging undergraduate institution. Silver and bronze indicate progressively lower levels of readiness, but in every case admissions officers will know that the student applying has been through a rigorous preparation program and is familiar with what is expected for study in the U.S.
A global education: Why preparedness matters
In our increasingly global society, international student enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities continues to increase. The more quickly international students are able to become acclimated and engaged in their education, the more quickly the campus community benefits from the global experience of international education.
“Chinese students who come to the U.S. have both academic and social challenges,” says Associate Provost for Global Affairs Kline Harrison. “In order for Wake Forest students to enjoy the benefits of a global educational experience, it is important for Chinese students to feel confident in their academic abilities and confident about interacting with American peers. Students coming to Wake Forest with the Wake Forest Advantage experience are more likely to fully benefit from their college years as true Demon Deacons and are also much more likely to reach their potential as sources of enrichment for the university community as a whole.”
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