It was 2 a.m. when Heling “Zero” Cui finally arrived at Oregon State University’s campus in September 2009, after the long trip from her small hometown in northeastern China. She and the group of INTO OSU students she arrived with – also from China – were the only ones on campus who were awake and outside. Zero had never been to the U.S. before, much less Oregon, and arriving on campus in the quietest part of the night was a disorienting experience.
When Zero and the others were ushered to West International Hall, there was at least an element of familiarity. All of the students in her vicinity, as well as the RA, were Chinese.
The next day, however, was a different story, when Zero attended orientation for international students.
“I saw a lot of faces from other countries,” she says. “I was afraid to talk to them. So I stood there, looking for other students who were Chinese.”
But the discomfort and nervousness didn’t last long. After a week, Zero had the chance to meet INTO OSU students from other countries. She had the chance to meet her professors. And she had the chance to meet students from Oregon. The connections made the experience of being on campus open up for her.
“People were so friendly. I could ask them any questions,” she says. “They were so nice to me. In China, if two people don’t know each other, they won’t smile at each other and say ‘hello.’ Here, they will. That made it easier to be in a new place.”
Zero is one of more than 600 international students from 29 different countries enrolled this fall through INTO OSU. Oregon State’s partnership with the U.K.-based company, INTO University Partnerships, is the first of its kind in the U.S., and was designed in part to increase international enrollment on campus.
Zero was enrolled at OSU through one of INTO OSU’s “Pathway” programs, which offers students a full year of instruction and a breadth of support services to accelerate their success. For Zero, an energy engineering management major, that meant taking smaller classes with other INTO OSU students that included English language instruction, at the same time she was taking introductory-level classes like engineering with regular OSU students.
“It was an exciting experience taking classes with local students,” she says. “The professor didn’t need to slow down his speed of talking. I found that, ‘whoa, I can catch up with the professor. I can understand.’”
Coming to the Oregon State to study was a way for Zero to start over. “High school was so tough for me. It was a hard time,” she says. “I didn’t like studying during high school. I skipped lots of school during that time. But as soon as I came here, I had to change everything.” Changing everything, in fact, was one of the reasons she adopted the nickname “Zero.” It gave her the notion of a clean start.
Zero realized soon after coming to campus that she’d have to work harder and try harder than she ever had to find success. It was a smart strategy. Not only did she get good grades, she found that applying herself made her feel even more ingrained in the OSU community.
Also, having an OSU conversation partner, Beka Bylund, an OSU student who participated in the INTO OSU Conversant Program, and Corvallis native, went a long way to helping Zero feel at home. Beka brought Zero to her parents’ house for dinner. She taught Zero how to make cookies, helped her with school-related questions, and even helped her move. “It’s wonderful to have someone around like that, a friend to always stand by you and always give you support,” Zero says. “I think the U.S. is a very nice place to me. I just feel comfortable here.”