22,483 is the entire size of the Syracuse University student body. This includes everyone from undergraduates to law students. Given this massive student body, it might not be a surprise to find out that 20% of that figure, or just about 4,500 of those students, are international students. That suggests there possibly 4,500 students on the Syracuse University campus who may not have the same level of proficiency over English as their primary language, compared as the other 17,983 students on campus. This challenge is vastly exacerbated when one realizes that this language barrier keeps them from being a part of the conversation and fully immersing themselves in all that Syracuse University has to offer. Enter Ze Zeng.
Zeng is a freshman in the Whitman School of Management studying Finance and Supply Chain Management. He is the campus voice for WeMediaLab, a Syracuse University platform and media think tank founded in September 2019. WeMedia Lab helps connect the very diverse worlds of students on campus through social media. “Our job is to create a platform to connect international students and the school,” says Zeng, who describes the problem as a lack of a proper source of information especially for the international students who don’t have the same command over the English language as, say, Benedict Cumberbatch.
WeMedia Lab is a social media platform utilizing WeChat, the social media website vastly popular with the East Asian student body on campus. It is essentially a registered and official Syracuse University page on WeChat where the WeMedia Lab team push out content to recipients. Zeng describes the platform as being helpful to introduce school to people who want to come to Syracuse University, and share information about what is happening at the university.
What is a more applaudable motive behind WeMedia Lab, is the recognition that these students are from a different culture and are not as effectively reached when information regarding school events and news take place. This difference in culture keeps them from being as involved in the campus as they would like to be, which keeps them from being an effective part of it. WeMedia Lab aims to reduce this cultural difference by acting as a bridge. Zeng describes how the main motive behind the initiative is to tailor important information to these students and not only keep them in the loop but also hear back from them.
“What we are doing right now, is creating a double way — at the same time as sending information to international students, and at the same time sending out information from the international students to American students, to let them know what is going on the international community”.
Originally from Beijing, China Zeng spent his childhood traveling the world. “ The reason I came to USA is because that my parents loved to take me traveling around the world. If I remember correctly, I’ve been to 15 countries before I came to USA.”
After witnessing and being fascinated by various international cultures, Zeng decided to pursue an international education. He spent his high school years in Boston attending the Catholic Memorial High school, where he also served as the representative of the local international students. “I think my high school experience shaped me very much in why I wanted to join WeMedia Lab and help students.”
Zeng served as the international student representative to the school president, where he would present the international student ideas to the president. “My friends told me that we should have more international student activities like the spring festival.” Initiatives like this helped Zeng realize how much he enjoyed being an envoy, and hence pursue a similar role at Syracuse University. However, he notes it was easier to be a representative in high school with 40 international students as opposed to Syracuse University with its vastly significant number.
Despite any challenges however, Zeng carries with him a sense of confidence and fortitude. Whether the challenge includes being a voice for over 4,000 students or adapting to an entirely different culture, there is no obstacle too big. While working with the Blackstone-LaunchPad, Zeng says that his interactions and vivacious conversations with the plethora of talented individuals he meets helps inspire him to come up with innovative solutions to further drive himself and WeMedia Lab. As he continues to work on his project, he aims to one day provide a meaningful voice to the international community of students at Syracuse University.
Story by: Krishna Pamidi, Blackstone LaunchPad Global Media Fellow