BU PR Graduate students reacting with smiles to instructor

Global Immersion Program

Online readiness help for international students

Global Immersion Program at Boston University logoLike all U.S. higher education institutions, Boston University faces a rapidly rising population of foreign students at all levels of study.[1]

BU’s College of Communication (COM) was the first academic program at BU to address the needs of these students with an online readiness program, available before classes begin, while the student is still in their home country. The program, called Global Immersion, offers all COM Master’s Degree students a chance to gain language, cultural, and academic skills through online work with an instructor and on-campus resources for socializing with other students.

Originally funded by the Digital Learning Initiative (DLI) in 2014, the program has quickly expanded beyond pilot stage, and has even inspired and informed other efforts across BU, including the new BU First Class program now offered by the Global Programs office for all incoming international students.

Improving Classroom Readiness Aids Everyone
The program’s initial goal was help foreign students ready themselves for success in their field of study at COM. Asian students, in particular, are at a disadvantage in the American classroom, where active participation is key to successful learning. Students coming from these cultures are generally not used to the active role expected of them at COM. This, on top of the many cultural, language, and social challenges, can impact these students’ performance and sometimes create challenges for faculty and classmates.

“The College of Communication wanted to demonstrate to these international students that the more you participate, the more you show interest, the more you work with your peers, the more you engage with your faculty, the more successful you’re going to be,” explained assistant provost for graduate enrollment management David Cotter, who at the time of initial launch was the graduate programs manager for the College of Communication.

Cotter and associate professor of public relations Steve Quigley designed the original program called Global Immersion, most of which still exists today. Incoming students take a five-week structured online readiness curriculum, completed in June. They are aided by COM faculty, who grade their assignments. The program uses online learning to introduce international students to BU and to the COM academic culture.

Online and On the Ground
The initial goals of the program included:

  • Helping international students catch up on some of their written and oral English language skills,
  • To learn more about US media and culture, and
  • To learn about the typical US classroom.

Said Cotter, “We wanted to orient international graduate students to US culture and to Boston and BU before they arrived.”

Cotter also noted that many international students expressed concern regarding their speaking abilities, which he feared would be a difficult problem to alleviate through a summer program. Kathryn Burak, master lecturer at COM’s writing program and the current Global Immersion Program director, said that having an individual faculty member assigned to each student helps them to learn more deeply and to gain confidence in their language abilities.

“Every week they have a written assignment that is responded to by a teacher,” said Burak. In a recent program, she assigned them the task of producing their own episode of This American Life,” a popular radio show that features stories of US issues and culture. The students loved it.

In the past year, with the aid of assistant director of Graduate Affairs Kayla Bethany Ring, the program has grown a very strong social component

BU International students posting during a Boston outingEach student is assigned a “buddy” from the current COM Master’s Degree student population. They communicate before they arrive on campus to get answers to questions about everything from cultural norms to how to find an apartment. Once the new students arrive on campus, buddies help them get together with other students, get oriented to the BU campus and to Boston, and try to organize at least one social gathering.

Explained Ring, “The buddy program is a big inducement for these students to join the program in the first place. Because they know that when they get here they will have this automatic point of contact.”

One international student, Juan Zhou, attributed the program to her sense of readiness for her coursework. Without the program, she noted, “I was totally in the dark. I didn’t know where I could find my apartment. I didn’t know what study life will be like.”BU Professor Steven Quigley talking to class

Success Breeds Success
Quigley said that a key measure of success has been the favorable response by faculty, who have noticed students getting more comfortable with interacting with them.

Said Cotter, “COM faculty said that they started noticing changes in the classroom. Students who had been silent were now raising their hands. International students and US students were socializing and heading down together to get a cup of coffee.”

Ring added, “We really wanted to give these students confidence in their ability to come here and to feel like they are going to succeed in graduate school. By that measure alone, the program has been a success.

[1] Data published by BU Global Programs shows that BU taught 9,038 international students in the fall of 2016. Of those students, 45% were from China.