As Center for Community general manager Matt Bratton talked about the dining center's made-from-scratch tortillas, a handful of parents visiting the University of Colorado from China listened attentively through a translator, while snapping photos of the burrito station on their phones and tablets.
After the tour, the group roamed the dining center, filling their plates for lunch in the middle of a busy day spent touring different parts of the campus.
The 22 parents and grandparents visiting the Boulder campus this week from China are here as part of an outreach program coordinated by the Office of Parent Relations.
As the university's international student population has grown, so, too, has the university's reach abroad. Last year, a group of CU administrators, including Chancellor Phil DiStefano, traveled to several cities in China to meet with admitted students and promote the university, in addition to the recruiting admissions officials have been doing in that country since 2010.
That trip sparked an idea to bring the parents of Chinese students to Boulder to see where their children live and study, said George Ballinger, director of the Office of Parent Relations.
The university partnered with China Travel and Tour, a Boulder-based travel agency founded by CU alum Nick Wang.
Wang coordinated both the trip for CU administrators to China and the trip for Chinese parents in Boulder, which includes various campus tours, dinner at the chancellor's house, a tour of Denver, a day trip to Estes Park, panels and other activities.
"The main goal of this trip is for parents to understand their kids' lives and also the university, what they offer, how their kids are doing, what kind of services are available," Wang said. "Aside from the university and academics, we want them to know the city of Boulder. It's part of the experience of studying here and also, in general, the state of Colorado and the Denver area and American culture."
Liping He, whose daughter Yiling Zhong is a freshman at CU this year, traveled to Boulder for the trip because she wanted to see firsthand the campus her daughter had been describing. She said she thought the campus was clean, beautiful and friendly.
She said she also appreciated CU's focus on bringing international students to campus and sending American students abroad.
Through a translator, He said she wasn't aware of any other American universities that had invited a group of Chinese parents to campus.
"As far as she knows, CU-Boulder is the first American university who has done this level of intercommunication between the parents in China and the university," said Wang, translating for He. "It's important for them to understand how the university is run in the United States."
According to CU enrollment data, a record 273 freshmen are international students this academic year, a 60 percent increase from last year, and CU officials expect that number to keep growing. International students make up 8 percent of the total undergraduate and graduate student body, a number CU officials said they want to increase to 10 percent within the next three years.
CU began sending admissions officers overseas to recruit students in 2010 after a package of state legislation passed that made it more lucrative for state universities to enroll foreign students.
In the fall of 2010, 1,368 international students enrolled at CU. That number has grown to 1,785 in the spring of 2014.
Of CU's international population, 488 students are from China, which makes it the foreign country with the largest number of students at the Boulder campus. The most popular majors for students from China are engineering, business, and arts and sciences, according to spring 2014 data.
While it's important to bring international students to Boulder, Ballinger said, it's necessary to ensure their success once they enroll. The Office of Parent Relations partners with parents to help students do well on campus, and the trip for Chinese parents is an example of that philosophy, Ballinger said.
"It's communicating to them that we think they're very, very important and that we care," he said. "If all we did was just recruit their students and have them come here and not take that extra step, we're taking a risk that their students might not be as successful as they would be if we reached out and help facilitate their success through their parents."
Ballinger said he hopes the parents also will return to China and spread the word about CU to other parents and prospective students.
Before heading to a tour of the CU Art Museum, grandparents Fusheng Wang and Qiurong Zhang chatted over lunch at the Center for Community. The two said they heard about the university's reputation from friends in China, and then did their own research online.
They said their grandson, a freshman studying economics at CU, is learning in a safe and beautiful place in Boulder.
"We have total peace of mind," Wang said through a translator. "We don't need to worry about anything."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106 or firstname.lastname@example.org.