It took Marie Schuster all of five days to feel perfectly at home at Ohio University.
That’s why she and a group of students from Germany’s Leipzig University and Hong Kong Baptist University believe OHIO should work to sell itself as a quintessential American experience when recruiting international students, rather than focusing on factual information about the university.
“It pretty much feels like home,” the Leipzig University graduate student told a group of Ohio University marketers at a global capstone presentation Sept. 29. “Today, I got up, I went to my coffee shop… it’s already, like, my main coffee shop. We’ve been here for five days. It feels like home. Really comfortable, really safe and really inclusive.”
Schuster and 10 other students from all three universities worked together on the global capstone project, the third semester for such a collaboration. It’s an extension of a 25-year partnership between Ohio University and Leipzig University; Hong Kong Baptist joined in a few years ago, said Dr. Robert Stewart, director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.
“Over those 25 years, we’ve had a lot of different initiatives, a lot of different faculty involved. Right now, the hot thing that we’re working on is this communication management, strategic communication,” Stewart said.
OHIO and Leipzig officially began a partnership in 1992 and signed an agreement in 1994 to help ensure that students and faculty at both universities are well prepared for the challenges and opportunities of an increasingly interconnected world. In 2000, the Ohio-Leipzig European Center was created to provide OHIO students the opportunity to connect with Leipzig through an interdisciplinary summer program.
Chuck Borghese, a lecturer in Scripps, has worked with the partnership for the past three semesters on strategic communications and marketing. In the past, students have focused on products like candy bars and Microsoft, but to give a deeper, more authentic experience, this time the team focused on messaging ideas for an entity they could address directly – Ohio University itself.
The students – Natalie Butko, Jordan Kelley, Avery Kerns and Hannah Wintucky from OHIO, Schuster, Christopher Golombek, Maximilian Hofmann, Josefine Pohle and Jan Reinholz from Leipzig, and Sam Cho and Angela Cheung from Hong Kong Baptist – interviewed international students at Ohio University to find out what attracted them here and what they liked about the Ohio University experience. From there they worked on what kind of message would be most likely to attract more students in the future.
Their conclusion was that the current messaging feels more targeted toward parents and the facts of the University, whereas the students are more likely to be attracted to the American experience.
Cheung pointed out that in many international universities, including her own, students aren’t particularly close; they go to class, and go home again, without much interaction outside the classroom. Ohio University brings a completely different experience.
“I really feel a sense of community. Students are engaging; they love to ask questions,” she said.
The group suggested Ohio University’s messaging should capitalize on that experience beyond the classroom, to let international students know not just how the university is, but how life is here.
“Our team proposes the implementation of an engaging campaign that shows international students that OHIO provides the quintessential American experience,” Wintucky said. “When international students want to come to the United States, they’re not looking for an experience that is like that of their home. They want something that is different; they want something that is new.”
Borghese said having international students interviewing other international students lent more authenticity to the results.
“I think the students really took a deep dive into what is actually, truly thought and felt and experienced by the international students,” he said. “It’s a positive outcome; we heard some really great things about what the experience is like, and I think some surprising things, where the international student embraces this quintessential American experience, and since that’s true and we get such a positive reaction to that, that’s something we should think about in our messaging.
“This University is all about community,” Borghese added. “To a European or international student in general who is used to an experience that is just going to classes and going home and not having this sort of community, this is really a positive possibility.”
Schuster and the others said the international students they interviewed all honed in more on the OHIO experience than on strictly academics.
“I think the community is the biggest part. That everybody is really inclusive, that people are open-minded, outgoing and open to meeting new people,” Schuster said. “Everybody noticed right away that people are nice, and that people are welcoming and that you can really find a home away from home, which is really important if you’re staying for such a long time.”
Dr. Werner Suess, honorary professor of corporate communications at Leipzig University who accompanied his students to Athens, said the international communications experience is invaluable for the students involved.
“It’s intercultural exchange, intercultural communication skills. That’s important for any kind of business, what you do in the world, for the future,” he said. “America is right in the middle of the global world.”
The Leipzig and Hong Kong Baptist students left town the day after their presentation, but there are more chances for interaction. The three university teams will convene again in Hong Kong over Spring Break, followed by a trip to Leipzig University in June.