Coco Shan is your typical 20-something student attending DePaul University. She loves watching "Gossip Girl" and the "Vampire Diaries," and she got her first glimpse of the big city of Chicago through the setting of her favorite show, "The Good Wife." She can't get enough of fashion and her Google+ account is filled with information about the latest clothing trends. And just like other young women her age, she couldn't wait to leave her small town for college. But what makes Shan's educational pursuit different is that she chose to travel more than 7,000 miles away from her hometown in China to attend DePaul in Chicago.
"I just wanted to grow independently," says Shan, a Master's of Accountancy student at DePaul's Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. "When I was accepted into graduate school at other universities in America, I asked friends who were in Chicago and they told me DePaul had the best business program, so I came. I was surprised by DePaul. They have such good faculty and a lot of resources and I am having a really good experience here."
Shan is part of a growing trend. She is among the 235,597 students from China studying abroad in the United States. In 2013, according to the Institute of International Education, China became the largest exporter of students to the U.S. The influx of students has changed the college recruitment game. Entire businesses, such as ChaseFuture and Zinch China, have been created to help Chinese students apply and secure U.S. college admission.
These changes are noticeable at DePaul, too. Over the last five years the Driehaus College of Business has increased its enrollment of Chinese students six fold, according to Professor of Management Patrick J. Murphy. Murphy, who leads the university's internationalization strategy into China, has been instrumental to recruiting Chinese students in Driehaus College of Business and also to the forging of a strategic alliance with Huaqiao University in 2012.
The alliance entails the pursuit and development of programs that support a wide range of student and faculty educational exchanges between the two universities. His approach to DePaul's internationalization derives its meaningfulness from a focus on culture.
Murphy says DePaul seeks to build meaningful exchanges among DePaul students and faculty and Chinese students and faculty. If those exchanges are not meaningful, according to him, then they cannot be excellent and are unlikely to be sustainable.
Meaningfulness is based on embedding values from both sides into the exchange, he says. This culture-based philosophy looks at international student outreach as a two-way street. This model for the exchange of education in both the U.S. and China is something many universities have sought to do, often with the help of external firms, but few find lasting success.
"The definition of culture is shared values," Murphy says. "We want to connect DePaul's values and American values with Chinese values, and our Chinese partner Huaqiao University's values, without affronting those values on either side. Connecting carefully at that level is the key to a sustainable and adaptable strategy that generates excellent learning outcomes. External entities cannot help us do that because they do not truly understand our culture. Building relationships goes beyond just recruiting students. We're creating a shared value space that Chinese and American students will both find appealing."
DePaul Takes Road Less Traveled to China
It's not uncommon to walk into an elevator on DePaul's Loop Campus and see Professor Murphy talking with Chinese students. Mandarin rolls off his tongue with ease, and his manner with Chinese students seems effortless. It's a familiarity that can’t be gleaned by just visiting the country. Instead, Murphy's comfort with these international students stems from his life experience with China and its culture.
Murphy was a college student years ago when he first heard about studying abroad. While many of his peers opted to study in Europe, Murphy chose China. After studying Chinese language in a semester-long immersion program at Beijing Foreign Studies University, he returned there a year later and spent a summer living with a Chinese host family. In China he rarely spent time with other Westerners, preferring to immerse himself in local customs and language. Since that experience almost two decades ago, he has studied the language formally and has visited China almost every year.
Murphy, who has been at DePaul for 11 years, says it was his knowledge of China and also of DePaul that prompted the provost to ask him to lead DePaul's strategy into the world's most populous country.
"I understand China well enough to know what I don't know, and, of course, I do understand how America works," Murphy said. "But being able to bridge these two cultures is what is important. I can speak the languages, but that’s not enough to be an effective bridge. It's important to use that knowledge to help translate these two foreign cultures to faculty members and students on both sides."
Murphy believes that Chinese students, who have never been outside of China, respond very well to DePaul's urban, Vincentian culture. He says his goal is to build genuine brand awareness of DePaul in China as well as to develop high quality and cost-effective ways for DePaul students and faculty to study in China for short or long periods.
The first step in his strategy was to find a well-matched university partner. Among several other criteria, DePaul sought a place where DePaul faculty and students could thrive, as well as a place where Chinese students could engage DePaul. Murphy initially worked with his Chinese teacher from his foreign student days, who visited Chicago so both of them could meet in-person with every college dean at DePaul. After they surveyed many universities in China, their choice was Huaqiao University in the southeastern coastal province of Fujian.
Chinese University Becomes DePaul's Ambassador
Situated among the beautiful coastline near the Great China Sea and facing Taiwan, Huaqiao University (pronounced "hwa-cheow") literally means "overseas Chinese" university.
Sprawled out on two campuses in Quanzhou and Xiamen, Huaqiao educates 24,000 students from 29 countries. It is a national-level (not provincial-level) university, and was originally founded to educate the children of Chinese families who were living abroad. Professor Murphy says this makes Huaqiao "internationally focused" at the level of its culture, and an excellent partner for DePaul.
By partnering with Huaqiao, Murphy says DePaul's activities in China, and the resulting educational benefits for its Chicago-based faculty and students, will be richer. Among the benefits:
- Students and faculty will not have to pay expensive lodging prices for hotels when they travel to China, as they can live and work at one of Huaqiao's campuses.
- DePaul students can study in China longer than they do in short-term study abroad programs and achieve fuller immersion at a more attractive cost.
- There are new teaching opportunities for DePaul faculty. For example, Huaqiao just unveiled an undergraduate business program taught exclusively in English. Murphy and Tom Donley, chair of the Department of Economics, recently delivered seminars there.
- DePaul faculty and administrators who lack the required networks will have easier access in China to undertake research projects and build relationships with students and faculty who want to study or visit DePaul.
"It's no secret that it is difficult for foreign colleges and universities to get sustainable footholds and cultivate meaningful and lasting partnerships in China," Murphy says. "Our collaboration with Huaqiao, and the amazing people there with whom we've built friendships, make it possible for us to do it."
It's about People, Not Numbers
There are some cynics who see the rush to recruit Chinese students into American universities as a mad dash to boost enrollment numbers. But Chinese students say their experience at DePaul is more about building strong relationships than it is about the bottom line.
When Zhan Wang decided to leave her hometown of Nanjing on the banks of the Yellow River for an American university she looked at several schools. A friend had suggested DePaul, but it wasn't until she first met Professor Murphy in Beijing that she felt comfortable choosing DePaul. Now that she's here, she also speaks highly of the school's support services and academic advisors such as Rikki Eul.
"No one can do a better advising job than Rikki," Wang says. "She just really knows how to solve a problem and can do it quickly and with professionalism."
Wang, who received her M.S. in Finance from DePaul and is now in the MBA program studying entrepreneurship, says when she had a conflict with her Chicago internship and a planned study abroad trip to France, Eul solved it with some help from Professor Murphy.
"I feel really thankful because they're the people who stand by you, no matter what," said Wang. "No matter if you have a problem or not, they're willing to meet you any time."
Wang said DePaul's connection with Huaqiao creates a meaningful bond between Chinese students and DePaul's culture.
"From my perspective, DePaul is making a meaningful connection with China," said Wang, who provided administrative support when a delegation of administrators from Huaqiao visited DePaul. "It's a much deeper meaningful connection because it's built in the right way and on the correct foundations. It's not just a contract. This makes me feel more hopeful."
For Coco Shan, her positive experience at DePaul also goes beyond just language and academic work. It's an experience that has tapped something deep inside of her: a desire for freedom and innovation.
"Nobody ever told me in China that you need to pursue your passion," Coco says. "I learned from Professor Murphy that I need to work hard on my passion and I need to do it better than anyone else. I used to think more than act. Now, I act more.
"I've always had a passion for fashion but I've never acted upon it," she explains. "But I recently started a (fashion) blog with my friend… I'm taking action. It feels great… it's my little baby, I don't know where it's going to go, (but) it's at least a start."
Much like Coco's blog, no one knows where DePaul's foray into China will lead. But it's clear that the relationship with the world's fastest developing country is off to a great start.
"What we're starting here will lead to something significant in the coming years," says Murphy. "Entering China in a meaningful way is good for our university and its mission. And students like Coco and Zhan will eventually give back to the world in a big way. Their contributions will convey to others what DePaul did for them, and in the way that DePaul does best."