Chinese students from earthquake zone on way to Upstate New York

Justin Head

It’s a long journey from an area devastated by an earthquake in China to the hills of Allegany County in New York state.

On Aug. 17, five students from China’s heavily damaged Sichuan province will arrive at Alfred University to begin studying material science. AU is participating in a program with 22 other New York colleges to assist the 150 Chinese students for the approaching academic year.

The goal is to build leadership abilities within the students so they can return to China and help the damaged communities they came from.

The biggest challenge for AU faculty was the short period of time they had to process all of the students. Normally, the school has months to work details out with international students, but in this case they had days.

Petra Visscher, director of International Programs at AU, said the staff at the college has  worked hard to bring the students to Alfred.

“It was a little unclear who would carry what cost, but Alfred University has been extremely generous; the president said we had to make this happen,” Visscher said.

 The school wanted to make sure the students get a warm welcome to Alfred, so administrators set up a host family program, gathered some graduate student mentors, and hosted a linen drive.

Each student will have a friendship family, Visscher said.

“The idea is the family takes the students shopping in Hornell, to a movie; it will help them get acclimated,” said Visscher. “They have to help them adjust to the culture and take them during the holidays.”

A few families have already been selected, but AU is still looking for more.

“I think this is a way to lessen the effects of the earthquake,” said Dr. William LaCourse, associate provost for statutory affairs at AU. “I think this is good for America and good for New York.”

The school has existing relationships with China through their business, ceramics and engineering programs, officials said, and look forward to participating in this program. But since the earthquake happened in May and the New York colleges have just recently started this program, all had little time to work the travel restriction issues out.

“Normally, visas take a long time, but the State Department and people on the Chinese side did a great job of getting them quickly,” said Visscher.

The Chinese students will first be flown to New York City where they will spend the night at SUNY Maritime College. This measure counteracts the effects of the long flight and allows them to tour the city. 

Each of the SUNY schools hosting students will send representatives to greet the students. Alfred representatives will have someone with them who speaks Mandarin Chinese when they meet the students.  

The Evening Tribune