Assistance Abroad

— Ken Rosenberg

Trite, but true: often, in life, it’s not simply what you know—it’s who you know. It is our connections that reveal opportunities; it is our relationships that secure them. Poised at a metaphorical crossroads, having a friendly source of inside information can make all the difference. Fortunately, for any incoming Chinese students, there is Yanyan Zhou, our department’s unofficial ambassador. A somewhat recent admit herself, Yanyan is a second-year master’s student. After less than a year in Bloomington, she has taken it upon herself to assist any Chinese student looking at graduate programs in the United States. A bold spirit and a fierce friend, Yanyan has illuminated the halls of Telecom with her academic fervor and quirky research interests. By reaching out on chat groups and message boards, she has given us even more than all of her efforts—she has given us new friends, the promise of potential in others.

Yanyan has been contributing to online groups oriented towards helping college-age Chinese students become scholars abroad. Tough decisions plague every student, choices that are likely to shape the rest of their lives. For international students, these choices are substantially compounded by distance, cost, and effort—though the reward is worthwhile, the risk is high. Educated decisions reduce risk, which is why current, incoming, and potential students pool knowledge and resources. Everything is shared—from books, admission notices, and advice about applications—spanning from which major to pick to relatively mundane tips on what sorts of blankets are worth bringing Stateside. Yanyan had used these collaborative tools to help make her way toward ultimately becoming an IU grad student and Bloomington resident. She decided to stay active, joining the most recently formed online group.

Year after year, most people in the chat group end up coming to America—but, according to Yanyan, many of them complain when they get here. Their issues are varied; some campuses are difficult to navigate without a car—and some programs are difficult to navigate without a North American background. Not every professor is keen to read about Chinese issues, framed in terms of Chinese culture.  “I think IUB is very friendly to international students,” says Yanyan. “The academic environment is really good here. I have friends in other universities and they tell me that they are discouraged from writing about China.” As she explained, it is difficult to write about another media industry, another entertainment culture. Advanced scholarship is such an intrinsically-driven pursuit; it is discomforting and illogical to eschew one’s background when picking research topics. “I think I am so lucky that I can still do research about China here.” While other international students go online to warn people about their experiences, Yanyan has a professed desire to celebrate IU and the Telecom department. “Sometimes,” she admitted, “I just want to tell them and make them jealous. ‘I have a better university than you!’ The professors here are really helpful, generous. I just like to share my experience here, because it’s really sweet,” said Yanyan.

In sharing, she attracted Yijie Wu—known here as Camille—to our department, and to the MA program in particular. Camille did plenty of research on her own, proactively emailing professors Annie Lang and Rob Potter. When Rob sent an article for her to read, she read it five times. When Tamera sent out an article to respond to, she didn’t take the whole summer—in fact, she sent her response just three days later. Not only is this impressive in its own right, it is more so because it was the very first paper she had ever written in English. “I couldn’t sleep until it was done,” Camille said, “until it was perfect.”

Camille and Yanyan, at the orientation after-party.

Although Camille did a whole lot of research herself , she enjoyed help from Yanyan, who would send her articles and give her advice on how to prepare her application. They eventually began to forge a friendship. “Yanyan is a nice person, very open,” Camille said. “She just shared anything with me.” They would chat for a couple of hours each day, about all sorts of things: life in Bloomington, opinions about Chinese policies, personal stuff—and, of course, some academic talk, too. Yanyan even asked for Camille’s help when creating a snowball sample for a class project. Conveniently, Camille shares similar interests in media psychology.

One of the most important, pragmatic talks they had was about what to bring—like a good knife for chopping through bone, a slightly more ubiquitous (and affordable) tool in China—and what not to bring—like pots and pans. Lots of Chinese students believe that a snowy winter in Bloomington requires the thickest blanket money can buy, but Yanyan quells their concerns; Bloomington is no frozen tundra. Yanyan tries to impress upon her online friends that they will be able to find most things when they arrive. Still, stuff like medicine and glasses are much cheaper in China, so some supplies are still worth bringing. Her most important suggestion? “Beautiful clothes and small-sized shoes,” she said. Traditional Chinese dress is nigh impossible to acquire in Indiana.

Yanyan is a member of three groups, including one for the parents of students (who she says are “more worried than their kids”). More than a dozen students can thank Yanyan for making their transition easier. She has recommended apartments; Fountain Park should owe her a finder’s fee, as almost a dozen people live there now. Yanyan even offered temporary lodging for several Chinese students, to bridge the gap between arriving in Bloomington and their schedule move-in date. As far as IU Telecom students are concerned, Yanyan has given assistance to Camille—as well as another of our newest cohort members, Feiran Liu. “I really appreciate what Yanyan has done for me,” Feiran said, “and I am trying my best to introduce IU and especially our program to my friends in China. I’m doing exactly the same thing Yanyan did, and I hope that Telecom will gain more repute in Chinese academia.” Camille is also committed to following Yanyan’s example. Yanyan has, as a host, surpassed all expectations; she has even added her new friends to the family plan on her phone service. This additional act of generosity is poignantly symbolic, as it frames what Yanyan has done perfectly: she has created a family.

We are all very fortunate to have Yanyan, Camille, and Feiran as members of our larger Telecom family, too.

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