Program to bring Chinese business students to Winthrop

At Nantong University, a few hours outside of Shanghai, a group of college freshman are on their way to earning accounting degrees from Winthrop University.

A new relationship forged between Winthrop and Nantong universities will allow Chinese students to study in China for three years, then complete their final year of school at Winthrop's College of Business Administration. Students will take classes taught by Winthrop faculty members along the way, partly in person and partly by online and mail correspondence.

Roger Weikle, dean of the Winthrop business college, said the relationship was formed at the suggestion of large accounting firms that need bilingual English- and Chinese-speaking accountants. The students will be required to return to China to get their degrees, he said.

"They're not going to do American jobs," Weikle said. "They're going to be doing jobs that are being created because of the activity in China."

Business is Nantong is ready to boom because of the construction of a 10-mile bridge that will cut the drive time to Shanghai from several hours to about an hour and a half, Weikle said. That will open the door for new businesses to set up shop.

Students who are trained through this program would be accounting rookies, like any other recent college graduate, and potentially could be supervised by American companies in the U.S.

Weikle said he hopes about 25 of the 76 Chinese freshmen actually will make it to Winthrop in the fall of 2010. Some students might not make it to their senior year, while others might not be able to get visas.

In the mean time, the College of Business Administration already plays host to a large number of international students.

The ESICAD program has been bringing mostly French students to Winthrop for more than 20 years.

Most students, who study either business or mass communication, stay for only a semester. Others stay longer and pursue degrees from both Winthrop and their home institutions. A few students also have come from other countries.

Johan Febvre, director of the program and also a student in the master's in business administration program, said that adjusting to life in the United States is a lot of work for French-speaking students.

"The cultural gap is huge on everything," he said. "Culture, food, religion, everyday life -- everything is bigger in the U.S. It's easy to get lost."

ESICAD has almost 60 students at Winthrop this semester, including Febvre.

"As we are studying international business, it's good for us to be able to cross national boundaries," said Alice Botalla, a student in the program.

Botalla said students and community members have welcomed her and her peers at Winthrop. For her, adjusting to small-town life in Rock Hill has been more of a transition than adjusting to American culture.

Botalla and Febvre are two of 198 international students at Winthrop this semester.

The only other large block of students from one country is from Saudi Arabia, where the government provides scholarships for students to study in the U.S.

There are 26 Saudi students at Winthrop, the majority of whom are in the College of Business Administration, said Woody Pelton, director of the International Center.

That kind of diversity in the classroom is something Weikle considers an asset to the college.

"You're a student from around the area somewhere, and in your class, you've got two students from France and one from Spain and one from Morocco and two from China -- it starts to represent the demographics that are like the rest of the world if you're out there in business somewhere," he said. "You're not shocked if you encounter a person from a different country."