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International Student Orientation Gives Students a Head Start

October 15, 2007 — Imagine arriving in Houston, Texas, for the first time – in August.  You’ve studied at a prestigious university in your home country, have strong GMAT scores, and have several years of professional work experience.  Now, you’ve been accepted to Rice University’s MBA program, and you’ve come to Texas wondering what the professors will be like in this country, how you’ll meet other students, and where you might be able to buy your favorite foods from home.  You’re excited, but you also know – this is a different world.
 
This fall, more than 30 international students representing 12 countries found themselves in that situation.  To help them adjust, the Jones Graduate School of Management enrolled them in its International Student Immersion program, also known as international preterm.  Starting one week before the regular preterm, the immersion program gave students a head start by helping them meet each other and become familiar with the Jones School, Rice University, and Houston.
 
“This is my first time in the United States, so I had to adapt to a new environment on both the personal and professional fronts.  International preterm helped accelerate this process,” said Rice MBA student Aarti Subramanian. “Since there were only about 30 students, we got the opportunity to know each other better. The faculty was extremely warm and welcoming. This one week helped familiarize me with the school and also introduced me to the American culture.”
 
The immersion program, sponsored by the MBA Program Office in collaboration with the Communications faculty, the Career Management Center, and the Office of International Students and Scholars at Rice, provided a number of key activities for the students designed to help them adapt to both the Rice campus and American life and culture.
 
“We made it a primary goal to offer our international students more than had been available in previous years.  We began planning the immersion program last November, so this fall, it was exciting to see it all come together,” said Brooke Bond, Associate Director of MBA Programs.
 
First, Rice’s Office of International Students and Scholars helped students sort out visas and apply for identification cards and drivers’ licenses.  Students were given information on bank accounts, learned about housing do’s and don’ts, and discussed campus rules and regulations.  Visiting speakers from the Office of International Students and Scholars, the Rice Health Care Center, and the Rice Legal Counsel’s office helped students make sense of the campus and community and provided information on where to get help if they needed it.
 
Next, students got to know one another.  They discussed their background and culture, interviewed each other, and introduced their peers to the class.  Second-year students from both the full-time MBA and the MBA for Executives programs shared their experiences and survival tips, and during the school’s weekly partio, a “party on the patio,” international students mingled with second-year students.
 
Communications faculty and Career Management Center staff provided career management sessions to help students prepare to land an internship.  Students learned how to craft a resume and cover letter and received tips for networking with Rice alumni.  To help the incoming students get started early on their internship search, recruiters, alumni, and current students enjoyed a game of networking bingo and dinner at El Meson Cuban Restaurant in Rice Village.
 
Throughout the week, students participated in activities and lunchtime sessions designed to help them adjust to American culture.  Students learned such cultural basics as how to open and close a conversation, when to maintain eye contact, and how to deliver the perfect handshake.  Students tried their hand with American slang and humor and worked with an articulation coach – who, of course, began by teaching them to say “y’all” correctly.
 
On a more academic note, students had the opportunity to discuss general classroom expectations and learn how to engage in class discussions.  They talked about how they might interact with their student teams and manage their time well in this new and demanding environment.  A dinner out with Jones School Dean Bill Glick and several faculty members allowed the chance for some one-on-one questions and answers.
 
“I found the international preterm really helpful.  As an international student, you face the challenges of interacting not only with a different culture, but also with a different teaching method in a completely new environment,” said Marcelo Cisneros, a Rice MBA student.
 
“The opportunity to be on campus one entire week before the regular preterm started helped me get to know faculty, students, and the layout of the actual building.  It really leveraged my ability to make the most of the regular preterm and consequently in my first term here at Rice,” he added.
 
The following week, the other 95 students arrived on campus for regular preterm.  The international students greeted them, showed them the building, and taught the out-of-state students how to pronounce “y’all.”
 
Small group and individual counseling sessions rounded out preterm to help students set some goals for developing communication and career management skills.
 
International orientation didn’t end at the end of the week — students will continue to work with the Communications faculty, the MBA Program Office, and the Career Management Center to develop their skills.  The Office of International Students and Scholars also offers a continuing orientation program to help international students be more comfortable in their new home here at Rice.