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Chinese international students can choose to live on campus at SUSTech, take Rice classes online for fall 2020

Illustration by Chloe Xu

By Kavya Sahni     8/10/20 8:06pm

Rice is offering Chinese international students the opportunity to live on campus at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, Guangdong, for the fall 2020 semester, while enrolling in and taking Rice classes online.

According to Caroline Levander, the vice president for Global and Digital Strategy, SUSTech University was chosen because of its ongoing research collaborations with Rice. The Office of Global and Digital Strategy wanted Rice students to be on a like-minded campus. 

“We wouldn’t only be solving the very real challenge of our students needing a residential on-site education while they’re taking Rice courses online, but we also wanted one where they really felt that they were part of a meaningful partnership between Rice and the university that they were at,” Levander said. “We thought that's a way for Rice students to really feel that they're part of an extended Rice community.”

The Office of Global & Digital Strategy, Dean of Undergraduates and OISS had sent out an initial survey to Chinese international students on July 8, asking students if they would be interested in such a program. 

So far, 50 undergraduate students have confirmed that they want to participate in the program. Graduate students are also being offered this opportunity.

“We’ll have a community of maybe 80 Rice students in Shenzhen this fall,” Levander said. “It’s really amazing.”

Yiyi Yang, an incoming freshman from Shanghai, said that she has chosen to travel to Shenzhen for the fall semester because her family thinks it would be dangerous to stay in Houston during the pandemic.

“And I think mostly I'll be taking online lessons in the dormitory if I get to the US, so it would just be better to just stay in China,” Yang said.

On Thursday, July 30, Indian international students were sent an email with a survey from Adria Baker, Executive Director of OISS and Associate Vice Provost for International Education, to gauge interest in a similar program at Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.

“Rice is seeking ways to help students who are unable to arrive to Rice University for the Fall 2020 semester, by exploring possibilities with our partner universities,” the survey read. “Please respond to this survey to indicate your interest in participating in a visiting student immersion experience at IIT Kanpur.”

Students participating in the program at SUSTech will be enrolled at Rice, register for and take online Rice classes. They will pay tuition to Rice and pay the room and board fee directly to the university in China. Accommodations will be made for students attending classes with a time difference of more than four hours.

“[It is] very important for many of our students to continue to have timely progress towards [the] degree in terms of prerequisites and such, that we’re really trying to protect students’ timely progress through the degree and through the major,” Levander said.

Lisa Zhu, a sophomore from Shanghai, said that she does not plan to take part in the program at SUSTech.

“There’s only one school available in the program, and it is located in a city very far away from my family,” Zhu said. “If I have to live in the dorm, which is shared between four students, I may have little private space which is very important to me.”

While students will be taking Rice classes remotely, Levander said that the office is currently working on details of Rice students who are interested in taking a class at SUSTech too. Rice has developed a subset of SUSTech classes that are approved to be taken by Rice students.

Yang said that she plans to audit a class called “Understanding Death” which is being taught in Chinese at SUSTech.

“It’s one of the most surprising classes I saw… and [the] professor is one of the experienced social science researchers in China, so it’ll be a great chance to take his lessons,” Yang said.

Zhu, an engineering student, said that she prefers taking her major-related classes at Rice so that she can interact with Rice professors.

“I only [planned] to take some [humanities] and social science classes in the local school,” Zhu said. “After taking a look at the local school’s course list, I find that there are very few humanity classes, because the school is an institute of technology, so I don’t feel like I will enjoy the courses there.”

According to Levander, one challenge is that since the universities’ academic calendars are different, classes at SUSTech do not start and end at the same time as the ones at Rice.

“It really throws off the full academic calendar for a student, in addition to the transfer credit maybe not helping the student move forward towards [the] degree,” Levander said. “That said, we do want Rice students to take full advantage of the campus they’re on. [If] you're an Electrical Engineering major, it would be natural that you might seek out the Engineering Department and you might be able to have lab experiences shared with students at that university.”

Although the semester at SUSTech ends in January, Yang said that she plans to return to Shanghai once the Rice semester ends in November or December.

According to Levander, students will be able to use local facilities, the library on campus and public study spaces at SUSTech. 

“I toured the campus and it’s a very lovely campus so we know our students will have a very good environment to live and work,” Levander said.

Although the plan has not been finalized yet, Rice students living at SUSTech for the semester will have the opportunity to take part in research, projects, or discussions with other Rice students. According to Levander, this would help bring Rice students together, which is especially important for incoming freshmen to feel that “they’re part of the Rice community”.

“We want to make sure we… offer the students who would be co-located some kind of shared research project so that regardless of what classes you’re taking, you come together as a community around a shared question,” Levander said. “We’re working out the details of that right now, but it might be that there would be a local instructor who would convene that in collaboration with a Rice instructor.”

The Office of Global and Digital Strategy is currently focusing their efforts primarily on China, because that is the place with the largest number of students who are uncertain about whether or not they will be able to return to Rice for the fall.

Levander said that this opportunity at SUSTech is not limited to Chinese residents, but the real challenge is of Rice students getting visas in order to travel to China on time.

“We’d looked at that… we’ve got some Taiwanese students,” Levander said. “There’s nothing that precludes non-Chinese resident students from taking this program at all. I think the issue for them would just be, can you get the visa to get there. Certainly if a student can, that would be terrific.”

According to Levander, the office has not received many queries from students in countries other than China, but they are open to pursuing similar opportunities in other countries.

“I would strongly encourage any students who have this interest to be a little proactive,” Levander said. “It’s not a lack of interest in those students, it’s a challenge actually in understanding where students physically are.”

Students who are in their home countries or in a country where they would not be able to return for the fall should be in touch with Baker from OISS.

“I would say time is very short until the semester begins, and so we’re doing the best we can,” Levander said. “We can’t guarantee that we can stand these opportunities up for everyone certainly... we’re speaking to help the most students we can given the time we’ve got.”

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