Global Gateway Program provides ‘soft landing’ for international students

The Global Gateway Program students and staff pose for a picture at their homecoming aluminums and current student event. Audrey La | Photographer

By Rachel Royster | News Editor

In 2019, Baylor partnered up with a private company called Study Group to help internationalize the university through a pathway program called the Global Gateway Program (GGP). When the COVID-19 pandemic began, enrollment in the program was hit hard, but it is making a slow return.

Dr. Cornell Menking, GGP’s director, said the program has begun to gain more students, with 223 in the program since spring 2019. He said the goal of the program is to help students from different countries become more acclimated in the American university environment by giving them a “soft landing” with some introductory courses to life on campus.

“[These students] are good candidates to come to Baylor, but their English is just a little bit low — not beginner, just a little bit low,” Menking said. “They all have studied English in school, but they’re just not quite ready for college-level English yet, so our program helps ease them into an English immersion, American university environment in a sheltered program. We provide a high level of service and support for these students. We call it a concierge-level service.”

Support includes academic help from advisers like senior student success manager Meridith Moore, who Menking described as “the mother of the program.”

Moore said her job also includes helping international students with the often overlooked details of their day, like showing them how to work the laundry machine in their university housing or even explaining to them what the “gross black bugs” all over campus are.

“When we had that big cricket infestation in 2019, they were all over the Penland dorm,” Moore said. “Our students left their dorms and stayed with friends because they didn’t know what they were. They were terrified of the crickets. We just had to reassure them that they don’t bite. They don’t do anything. They’re just annoying. We help them know what’s safe and what’s not.”

Another challenge of coming from another country, Menking said, was getting used to an entirely different culture. He said a specific challenge is our reliance on written materials.

“[In the classroom,] we lay it all out with painstaking clarity about what we want from our students,” Menking said. “We have rubrics. We have syllabus. We have this; we have that. And we expect our students to read it, and there it is. International students are not used to that kind of, you know, rigor and clarity and reliance on detailed instructions.”

In order to get acclimated, students take between one and three semesters of GGP courses along with their Baylor courses to help them understand English and the American culture. Classes include grammar, listening, speaking, reading, writing and transitions.

“To me, that’s one of the most important core series because it focuses on what you need to know to transition to university here in the United States,” Moore said. “So for example, there’s a whole unit on the health center. How do we use the health center? How do we use doctors in the ER and everything in between? How to get around Waco, and how to prepare food, and — you know — just all kinds of topics in transitions that are pertinent to living in this culture, and then more narrow living in Waco and living at Baylor.”

Vietnam first-year student Anh Le and China first-year student Qiaoqi Liu said they specifically chose Baylor because of the GGP.

“Even though I don’t have enough English skills for the college level, I can improve with Global Gateway Programs,” Le said. “This program gives me the chance to communicate with other people. So now, I have Chinese friends and American friends that I get to learn and communicate with.”

The GGP also helps its students build a community of people who are experiencing circumstances similar to their own.

“[Qiaoqi] is my roommate, and because I see her almost every day, I don’t feel as homesick,” Le said. “And now, I know more about new cultures because I’m from Vietnam, and when I came here to study abroad, I’m not only studying the American lifestyle but also some of her country.”

Liu said that through the pathway program, she has been able to see more of what a citizen’s life is like in the United States.

“This program has lots of activities, such as visiting the Mayborn Museum,” Liu said. “I attended an exhibition about dinosaurs in some natural life and also learned some more about the museum’s history.”

Menking said one expectation they have for the GGP is to see the international students exceed the academic success of those not in the program. One way he said they have met that expectation is that 25 of the 132 international students on the spring 2021 Dean’s List students were from their program.

“Our main goal is that they’re successful at Baylor; that’s our No. 1 goal,” Menking said. “But at the same time, we hope that they stay at Baylor. We hope that they’re integrated into Baylor, that they feel like Baylor students by the time they’re done with our program, that they really favor culture, that they feel like part of the community by the end of that — you know — that pathway program. And we’ve been super successful with that.”