Through Batiq, the company founded by Michael Waxman ’11, students from as far away as Korea can find themselves sitting face-to-face with a Yale student on a weekly basis — through video conferencing, at least.
Waxman, originally class of 2009, is a co-founder of the student mentoring company Batiq, an enterprise that matches non-English-speaking students from around the world with U.S. undergraduates from elite colleges in order to facilitate language instruction and cultural acclimatization. He left Yale after his freshman year to build the company, and he returned this year after successfully launching Batiq in South Korea, where the organization now maintains a permanent office and staff.
Batiq has received 1700 applicants so far from international students looking to be mentored through weekly video conferencing sessions, and the process of connecting them with U.S. undergraduates is ongoing.
Waxman developed the idea for the company after spending a summer in Taiwan teaching English and improving his own Chinese.
“Being in Taiwan, I saw this huge need for better language instruction,” Waxman said. “So I called my friend Daniel, and we started discussing ideas.”
Daniel Clemens ’05, the other founder of Batiq, completed a doctorate at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship and was working at Google in the Bay Area when Waxman decided to take time off from Yale and move to San Francisco to found Batiq in September 2006.
Clemens and Waxman began looking for investors in late 2006, and by January 2007, they had launched the Web site with the help of their social and business connections.
“We contacted friends and acquaintances and made a couple presentations,” Clemens said. “We were looking for investors that had a passion for education.”
The board of advisers at Batiq currently includes Waxman’s father Gary Waxman, the CEO of WW Group Holdings Inc. and former CEO and current president of Jo-Ann Stores, Alan Rosskamm. Clemens is still involved with the daily operations of the company, but Waxman has since returned to Yale as a full-time student and is involved in an advisory manner.
Batiq undergraduate mentors are operating from Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Stanford universities, among others. Once they are matched with an international student, mentors video-conference with their mentees weekly to improve language skills, discuss college applications and talk about life. During the week, the international student and the mentor both prepare for the next conference based on a previously discussed curriculum, which might include reading assignments or grammar exercises.
American undergraduates may also act as student ambassadors, in which capacity they organize publicity efforts and recruit mentors on college campuses in the United States.
There are currently seven Yale undergraduates involved in mentoring, with over 40 total undergraduate mentors involved on U.S. campuses.
Susanna Ferguson ’09, a student ambassador and mentor at Yale, said the curriculum discussed in the video conferences depends on the student’s level of proficiency in English. She said she mentors one student who is very advanced in her English skills, so they are able to discuss such topics as feminist literature.
“At first, I thought the fact that they spoke such good English already defeated the point, but they have great insight, and I learn a lot from our dialogue,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson went to Korea last summer with Diego Iturbe ’09, another Yalie involved in Batiq, and they met with students to discuss the educational needs that exist in the country.
Waxman said many Korean students hope to attend Ivy League universities and they understand that familiarity with English is a crucial part of that goal. About half of the Korean students currently participating in Batiq are on scholarships that help pay the organization’s fees, while the other half are paying for services, said Clemens. Depending on the chosen program and the frequence of meeting, Batiq’s services cost under $1,000 per month for the international students.
Clemens said he hopes Batiq will be able to expand to China in the future.
“If we expand to China, we can really actualize that dream of being truly global,” he said. “We want to try to expand both vertically and horizontally.”
Waxman said returning to Yale was bittersweet, as he had to hand over his company — almost like he was “giving a child up for adoption.” He said he had always planned to return to Yale, and even though he is currently class of 2011, he will accelerate and graduate with the class of 2010. As for his future with Batiq after graduation, Waxman is undecided.
“I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it,” he said.