By ELIZABETH GOLDEN
Fort Hays State University is working to bridge the gap between international students and university activities.
Sina Weibo, first launched in 2009, is a Chinese website that acts as a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook.
After the Chinese government shut down the majority of social media websites, Weibo emerged as a substitute.
"Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China because, at that time, we were dealing with sensitive issues," said Vivi Lai, communications specialist at FHSU who concentrates on social media projects. "Everything is the same (on Weibo) except people won't talk about sensitive issues. It's monitored unlike Facebook and Twitter."
All posts on Weibo are written in Chinese, and are geared toward the Chinese population.
FHSU was the first university in Kansas to create a Weibo account, and one of the first universities in the U.S. to be verified, said Cindy Elliott, assistant provost for strategic partnerships and distance learning.
"Dr. Hammond signed the document, so we are a verified account," Lai said. "We are trying to be the best in Kansas."
The FHSU page on Weibo currently has more than 500 followers, the majority from overseas.
"FHSU has a lot of partnerships with Chinese universities," Lai said. "In 2013, we had about 3500 Chinese students enrolled in a Chinese university, but receiving a FHSU degree through the cross-borders program. On campus, we have more than 300 international students."
Lai said Weibo is a convenient way for international students, in China and on campus, to know more about FHSU and get involved.
"The reason we have this account is to increase student involvement for international students," she said. "Sometimes when international students look at emails or on-campus posts, they are a bit overwhelmed. They saw the poster, but didn't understand the point, or what the event is about."
Lai takes on-campus posters or university emails, translates the information, adds any applicable pictures and posts it to Weibo.
"Visual aids are really helpful," she said. "Chinese students also love the Victor E. Tiger and anything with the FHSU logo."
In addition to giving on campus students knowledge about activities, the website is used to reach out to alumni and students overseas.
"Every year, we have thousands of Chinese students in China," Lai said. "They never come to Fort Hays, but would love to see what the university is like. It's really hard to Google Fort Hays in China, so they enjoy seeing the detailed information we post. It's a great way to stay in touch with alumni."
Weibo is also used for admissions purposes.
"There are a lot of Chinese parents and prospective students on this website," Lai said. "When they see pictures and posts about Fort Hays, they become very interested. Parents feel more comfortable with sending their kids here."
Weibo is one of three projects geared toward international students. Lai also is working on developing CollegeWeekLife, an online college fair with a live chat function and Hotcourses.
"The projects provide new channels for international students to know more about Fort Hays," she said. "I'm glad we can have these websites."