When Yunfei Zhao first arrived at the University of Washington, he felt like he was mostly prepared.
“I learned how to check out a book in the library in my English class back in China,” he said. “I learned how to greet people; I learned how to find my way someplace.”
Then he got hungry.
“When I was waiting in line, trying to order food in the student dining hall, I see people say, ‘Can I get something something,’ and I realized, ‘Oh! I should say, ‘Can I get,’ he said. “I never thought about that. So I should tell my audience to say ‘can I get.’”
Yunfei is the co-founder of a Chinese language Internet radio station called HUA Voice, which started broadcasting in January 2014 on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s the only student-run foreign language station at the university.
Since then, more than 1,400 people have subscribed over their smartphones. (There are 3,845 Chinese international students currently enrolled at the University of Washington.)
Shows at HUA Voice do more than tell students how to order food in a conversational way. There are music shows, sports shows and shows about local elections and politics.
Their shows mimic Chinese radio programming – a format that Yunfei calls mood-sharing.
“They have a combination of talk and music, and people tell jokes, so it’s funny,” he said.
Listeners can also text message the hosts, which helps them connect with people who have more experience in the U.S.
When Chinese students come to American colleges, they’re often told to find someone with a similar background who can answer their questions and steer them in the right direction – kind of a combination older sibling and mentor.
Yunfei wanted to find someone like that his first year at the UW.
But he couldn’t.
“Asian people or Chinese students really trust in someone who has a similar background, while at the same time more experience than you do,” he said. “Even a little more experience, you’d like to talk to them. This is how parents told us to do. So a traditional idea.”
Although the format is traditional, hosts often take on topics that Yunfei said would never be discussed in China. They’ve discussed stress, how to have a good fight and, that old Northwest standby, seasonal affective disorder.
“We just wanted to introduce the concept, to let the student know, ‘OK, maybe just because of the darkness makes you depressed, and how you can work on that,” Yunfei said, “or how you can overcome these kinds of difficulties.”
HUA Voice started broadcasting in January 2014 on Friday and Saturday nights.
Hosts Ivy Huang and Terry Weng host a show called Web Browser. Together, they comb Chinese social media and talk about trending topics.
Yunfei has graduated from the UW, but he’ll host a show this quarter called Ask the Senior. Students can text in and ask Yunfei anything they want about academic life at the UW. His co-host will be a student who has never hosted for HUA Voice before.
“The position of host is so attractive,” he said. “It’s so many kids’ dream.”
Over winter break, HUA Voice went through some big changes.
It moved to a new studio; its staff grew from 20 students to 40; and, starting this week, it will broadcast four nights a week instead of two.
And Yunfei will be there to train and mentor the next generation hosts of HUA Voice.
Produced for the Web by Isolde Raftery.