Ryan Chartrand

New Year’s trumps Christmas by far. A school day lasts from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., not including homework. Parents are the ultimate deciders, even when they are wrong. And girls and boys rarely touch, although drinking is permitted in celebratory occasions as early as age 10.

Thus was the childhood of Barry Zhang, a Cal Poly construction management senior, in his hometown of Shanghai, China.

Zhang said the differences between his hometown and current residence are substantial enough to fill a 10-page essay, and then some.

“For example, most of the girls in China, they keep a certain distance away from guys,” he said. “Even if they are friends, there is always a line that they do not want guys to cross, so hugging, holding hands and kissing on the cheek never happens.”

Zhang, 23, is one of approximately 150 international students attending Cal Poly. Half of them are participating in exchange programs, while the other half, including Zhang, are seeking a degree, said John Battenburg, director of international education and programs.

And while Cal Poly is opening its doors to an array of international students, the school is also offering a plethora of opportunities to study abroad, with 141 programs in 36 countries.

Last year alone 650 Cal Poly students capitalized on such opportunities, Battenburg said, spending anywhere from one quarter to one school year studying abroad.

“It is increasingly important that not only others understand more about the U.S., but that the U.S. understands more about other cultures as well,” Battenburg said.

He cited the effects of Sept. 11 as deterrents from exchange programs, because acquiring U.S. Visas has become difficult for certain countries.

In order to attract international students, and at the same time deal with Cal Poly’s impacted classes, Battenburg said it is important to devise unique opportunities for international students-.

For example, during the 2006-07 school year, an incoming Taiwanese student will be enrolled in Cal Poly classes, but will instruct a course in Chinese as well.

Battenburg said he is working on increasing similar opportunities for other international students as well.

“I would like to see the day we offer Arabic at Cal Poly,” he said.

But the process of coming to Cal Poly can often be only one of a number of struggles for international students, especially for those seeking a degree.

Battenburg said international students often find the cost of living in San Luis Obispo, in combination with the out-of-state tuition, to be the most challenging part of a Cal Poly education. He also mentioned that students are often isolated from others of their culture in San Luis Obispo’s location, which can be an added struggle.

To help curb these issues the international student programs and services have devised a number of programs to help the students get acclimated, one of which enlists the help of honors students for mentoring purposes.

Zhang said for him, the most difficult part about his current distance from China is the lack of family and food. Due to the one-child-per-family rule presently in place in his home country, Zhang said cousins become like brothers and sisters.

But even with everything he misses in China, Zhang has acquired an affection for the American people and the country’s clean streets, so much so that his future plans are set in California.

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