University Admissions Diary : Setting Up Shop in China

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by Elizabeth DuMont-McCaffrey
Assistant Director of Admission, Mount Holyoke College   

A UPS package filled with Mount Holyoke materials had just arrived at my new office in Shanghai when I received an email confirmation.  Your UPS package has been delivered, it said, and signed for by Mr. Lao Wai.  “Mr. Lao Wai?” I said to myself.  Who is Mr. Lao Wai?  I had just signed for the package myself.  That’s when I remembered that “lao wai” means foreigner in Chinese and realized that I was Mr. Lao Wai.

This past fall, Mount Holyoke College opened a regional office in Shanghai, China.  Currently, I am based in Asia for 6 months per year—recruitment season (September-December) and yield season (March-June). The opening of Mount Holyoke’s regional office was filled will silly frustrations (such as the Mr. Lao Wai story) but also many overwhelming successes and a few genuine complications.

Mount Holyoke has a longstanding relationship with Chinese students and international students in general. Currently, our student body is composed of about 25% international students and about 150 of them are from mainland China.  Since we have so many Chinese students and applicants from the region, it made sense for us to have a regional representative based on the ground.  That is how my position and our Shanghai office came to be.

Many of our successes this past fall came from being on the ground in China.  I met more counselors, parents and students than I had in previous recruitment seasons. I learned more about the complicated educational landscape in China today and was able to interview many prospective students.  This spring, I am able to connect with juniors across China, attend fairs and organize admitted student events. In the past, many of these events and fairs would be covered by alumnae, so it is great to be more involved with our international yield efforts.

In terms of complications, most stem from my inability to speak Chinese. For example, I can’t call my cable company if the internet goes down. I can’t always ask for directions when I need them. Thankfully, all of our complications so far are pretty small.  Of course, learning some Chinese is a priority for me and that should help with these frustrating incidents.

To hear more about the MHC regional office in Shanghai, China, come to Innovative Recruitment in China, an OACAC conference panel this summer in Tampa. I’ll be presenting with colleagues Shiny Wang from Beijing No 4, Crystal Liu from EducationUSA China in Beijing and Jessica Guo from Hangzhou Foreign Language School.


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