An International Welcome
International students working for the Office of English Language Learning are creating a video series that introduces students from around the globe to Washington College. By international students, for international students, the virtual orientation series closes the gap between imagination and reality for those preparing to attend Washington College.
Move-in day at Washington College is annually inundated with echoed shouts across campus: “I cannot believe I forgot to bring [insert essential item here].” Whether a student is coming from Thailand or Tennessee, moving to college is complicated.
However, language barriers and the inability to tour campus beforehand create an opportunity for international students to be especially unprepared when coming to school, sight unseen. A new international orientation initiative, by and for international students, has emerged to assist incoming students from around the world prepare for and acclimate to life at Washington College.
It’s the brainchild of John C. Hepler, who arrived at Washington College in 2014 to launch the Office of English Language Learning, a program dedicated to supporting the international student body in their academics and their acclimation to this part of the world. Arriving in time for the Orientation Program that fall, Hepler noticed that some international students seemed startled by basic characteristics of the college, such as the size and location.
“[The Office of English Language Learning] felt we could provide them with information to better prepare them for life at Washington College. Some students literally have arrived on campus with no winter clothing, because they didn’t understand our location or the seasons,” says Hepler. “But obviously, these videos could help a prospective student decide to attend. They could also help parents advise their children whether or not to choose Washington College.”
As both a marketing and informational tool, the video series aims to make Washington College accessible from across the world with diverse video topics including the history of Washington College, the Chestertown community, the local climate, athletic opportunities, student organizations, course options, access to faculty, Public Safety, and Washington College’s emphasis on the liberal arts and sciences.
Started in the fall of 2015, the video project has grown with the help of several cycles of talented international student contributors. The Office of English Language Learning aims to upload ten videos in the series by the end of the 2018-2019 academic year for the benefit of current and incoming international students. The videos are recorded and captioned in Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, and English, with the English versions also captioned in Hindi, Tamil, and Thai.
Currently, three students are working to complete the project with Hepler: Amorn Chitkittiwong ’18, Xin Miao ’19, and Marah Tarawneh ’19.
Tarawneh, a double major in political science and economics from Al-Karak, Jordan, explained why she chose to take part in the series.
“I liked the idea of helping international students and their parents know more about Washington College… my parents do not speak English, so having [orientation information] in Arabic would have made them feel better about where I would be for four years of my life.”
Chitkittiwong, a political science major with a history minor from Thailand, saw the project as an opportunity to grow as a professional in addition to assisting future international students and their families.
“It’s not just a video project, it’s an ‘adulting process’: learning how to work with people, receiving orders, being creative, and most importantly, doing all these things while my hands are already full of other stuff in life.”
Hepler explained how he assembled his team of students to take on such a comprehensive series.
“During new student orientation, I conduct an oral interview with each new matriculating student. What they don’t realize is that I am also interviewing them for employment,” he says. Looking for students possessing skills from script writing to video and audio editing, Hepler hoped to acquire the help of students from diverse academic disciplines.
Hepler noticed Miao, a junior computer science major from Hangzhou City, China, for his artistic inclinations. A talented pianist and photographer, Miao helped Hepler’s team capture the natural beauty of Chestertown.
“At first, I was surprised to have this chance… I was wondering if I could take this job since I kind of doubted my abilities,” Miao confessed. But after working on the series, Miao has developed a keen sense professional and personal confidence.
“Right now, I feel like I can take on more challenges in the future without hesitation.”
One of the student originators of the project, Qinzuan Zhang ’18, has used her work for the Office of English Language Learning as a springboard for a career in the digital arts. Zhang, a double major in economics and art, has been accepted into the Electronic Integrated Arts MFA program at Alfred University. Her work was also featured in this year’s Senior Capstone Exhibition.
“The 10 Things to Know video project was a good experience for my graduate school application portfolio,” says Zhang. “It was a highlight on my résumé when I applied for the Electronic Art MFA program at Alfred University—New York State College of Ceramics. During the interview, the professors were particularly interested in the project and asked me about its purpose and how I participated in its development. In this case, I think it was important to include the videos, so the interviewers could see them as a reference to my experience.”
— Emily Holt ’19