International Studies & Programs

Virtual forum for families of Chinese students fosters connection in uncertain times

MSU has nearly 4,000 Chinese international students and scholars on campus: Here’s how MSU is connecting with their families.

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Published: Thursday, 09 Jul 2020 Author: Veronica Gracia-Wing

Although official figures indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic is being managed in China, news of the situation in the U.S. continues to concern parents who sent their children abroad to study at Michigan State University. To help mitigate these concerns, MSU moved promptly in March to launch a regular online forum for Chinese families to seek out more information and become familiar with campus life during the coronavirus. A computer screen shows a Zoom video meeting in session with four panel speakers.

The forum consists of a real-time video conference between Chinese parents and families, different offices responsible for the well-being of international students, faculty and student volunteers. The coalition is led by the Office for International Students and Scholars, the Office of China Programs and the Office for International Advancement. The Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative, Counseling and Psychiatric Services and the Chinese Faculty Club have provided guest speakers and hosted sessions.

While MSU departments and units were communicating independently with concerned parents about issues related to COVID-19, it became evident that it would be more effective for the different units to partner and streamline information through the virtual forum in light of parents’ increasing questions and the challenges a language barrier presents.  

“Everyone involved in the effort understood the need to communicate even more with parents to make them feel at ease. Members of the MSU coalition received common questions across the board due to the shared concerns of the parents—they’re worried and that is very understandable,” said Vicky Lee, student engagement coordinator and international student advisor with the Office for International Students and Scholars. 

“The coalition thought that it would be neat to try a ‘Zoom office hour’ where parents and students could see the faces of MSU faculty, staff and administrators, and have a more informal and personal conversation without the need to make an appointment,” said Lee. “The forum also creates a space to hear answers to commonly asked questions and have a chance to ask follow-up questions immediately.” 

MSU staff serve as hosts and speakers specializing in various areas of concern to parents are invited to facilitate discussions on various subjects. Topics have included immigration, traveling, housing, dining, academic resources, the impact of COVID-19 on research, the quality of online courses, health insurance and health care. 

The forums strive to address the detailed concerns of parents. For example, parents were particularly interested in how common areas were being disinfected. MSU officials responded by sharing details of the misting equipment recently purchased by the university and explained how this equipment is used to spray dining halls and dormitories. 

A sense of connection between MSU, parents and students is enhanced through the video capabilities of the forum. 

“We have all staff members turn their video on so that [parents can] see who they're talking to, or who's interpreting on behalf of an office,” said Lee. “These kinds of sessions helped to ease some of their worries and really reassure them that we care about them. It really helps having that human-human contact.” 

One of the greatest strengths of the forum is the personal connection it enables. 

One of the greatest strengths of the forum is the personal connection it enables. 

“The coalition wants to make sure that even though students are 7,000 miles away from home, families can still feel supported,” said Jennifer Wargo, deputy director of the Office of China Programs.

To learn more, go to Virtual Office Hours  视讯答疑. An archive of the forums is available at this site as is upcoming session information. The next session is anticipated for July and regular sessions will continue into the fall semester.