Yvonne Zhao. Photo by Martin Boling


When Yvonne Zhao was deciding how best to use her two Indiana University degrees, she found the answer in her classes.

“I could see a lot of students struggling to understand professors, what’s going on in their courses, and why people argue with each other all the time,” says Zhao, 25, who came to the United States from China five years ago to study at IU.

Zhao says she noticed many international students had difficulty understanding American government, culture, and social controversies over issues like abortion and marijuana. She also realized that many international students wanted to feel more welcome, and to get more involved in the community, but language and cultural barriers made that challenging.

In response, Zhao created a nonprofit organization, Global Citizens Empowerment, to provide academic assistance to international students through workshops and coaching. The organization, which opened in August 2016, is headquartered at 115 N. College on the downtown Square.

Zhao says she first tried a less formal approach. “I tried to bridge the gap by starting a student organization at IU,” says Zhao, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics, and a master’s degree in public administration. But she realized the club setting was too informal and students needed a more structured environment to learn to communicate and write more clearly. She also decided that a nonprofit organization would allow her to build a community among international students and would help them become part of the Bloomington community.

Global Citizens Empowerment offers free programs twice weekly focused on academic writing and American social controversies. It also offers programs for those who are beginning to learn English. For now, sessions are located in Fountain Park Apartments, where many international students live. But Zhao says she hopes to offer programs in additional locations soon. In January, she plans to start one-on-one academic coaching, for a fee, to help students with writing, grammar, clarity, and other skills.

“I do think we can foster a better sense of community to make international students feel more welcome and make Bloomington more accessible to them,” Zhao says.

For more information, visit globalcitizensempower.org.