Record number of int’l students admitted

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More than 900 Cardinals from 43 different countries have flown in for the fall semester, establishing one of the largest and most diverse international student populations at SVSU to date.

The SVSU Board of Control set a goal for the University: to have at least 10 percent of the total student population be comprised of international students. SVSU reached that goal several years before expected.

“I think having a higher population of international students is, in fact, beneficial to domestic students in that they’re being exposed to what the world looks like as opposed to interacting with only a homogenous population,” said Brian Thomas, acting director of strategic partnerships and associate professor of sociology. “We want to diversify the student experience, both for students coming to SVSU from other countries and for our students.

“And I think that’s important for their professional and personal development before entering the workforce.”
The international student population has risen from a total of 637 students to the current total of 925. Of that total, 449 are new to SVSU – a markedly larger number than the incoming class of 118 international students last year.

According to the Director of Graduate and International Admissions Jenna Briggs, the sharp increase in international students is due in part to the efforts of new staff in the Office of International and Advanced Studies, all of whom have been appointed within the last 18 months.

“Just like with our domestic or American kids, it’s all about (where the international students) fit,” Briggs said. “You have to find somewhere that [fits] for a variety of reasons – where they can afford, what degree programs they’re looking at and what size institutions they are looking at.”

The increased relationships with recruitment agencies in other nations, which act as the middleman between the university and the potential students, has also contributed to the growth in the international student population.

“The idea is to sort of streamline things, funnel them through these recruitment partners, and it’s a smoother process for everyone involved, and it’s efficient as well,” Whitney Cohen, the international student recruiter, said.

The university also saw a shift in the nations where international students come from, with 37 different countries represented in the incoming class alone. About 52 percent of the new students are from Nepal, and gains have also occurred in the populations from India, Bangladesh, Brazil, Pakistan and Canada.

“A lot of people would think, given our location, we’d have a lot of Canadian students, but we haven’t the past couple years, so that picked back up,” Briggs said.

Briggs said the university didn’t focus on recruiting students from Nepal until recently.

“Their outbound students are looking by and large for a lot of things within the engineering field, computer science, computer information systems and within health – which lines up well with SVSU,” Briggs said. “What they were sending for, we were just a really good point on the inbound side of it – as well as our price range.

“At the end of the day, why international students choose SVSU isn’t a heck of a lot different than why a kid from Saginaw might choose here, a kid from Grand Haven, Bad Axe or wherever,” Briggs added.

Anu Bhattarai, a nursing major from Nepal, said she heard about SVSU online.

“I found that my nursing career would be helped by being in the United States, where I can get help from top-notch nursing educators,” Bhattarai said. “I will get an overall better experience with nursing and in clinical areas, such as in hospitals of the United States.”

Another student from Nepal, Isha Subedi, is studying business and hopes to later work for a bank. She said she had been planning to come to the United States since she graduated from secondary school and heard about SVSU through a friend.

“The banking system and the technology are better here,” Subedi said. “In the United States, there is more advanced technology and education is better. This will help me in the business sector a lot.”

Not only do the resources and programs draw students from around the world to SVSU, but several students say the campus atmosphere contributed to their interest in the school.
“My hometown is Shanghai, and it’s a pretty crowded and modern city,” Qicong Weng, an international student ambassador from China, said. “But there are very nice people here, and they can just talk with you and just give you a nod if you walk on the street.”
“There is a home-living environment, though we are far from home,” Bhattarai said. “It’s not difficult to be here alone, far from our family.”
The University helps students who live on campus in multiple ways, including having a shuttle service that students can use to travel to nearby stores and other areas.
According to Briggs, the earthquake that struck Nepal in April has also affected the enrollment of Nepalese students.
“That first spring class [following the earthquake], we had a lot of them defer until they figured out what they were going to do,” Briggs said. “We had a lot that did defer and we haven’t heard from. I’m making the assumption … that a lot of people lost homes [and] a lot of their financial support to be able to come to the school.”
Despite the earthquake, Bhattarai said her choice to come to the SVSU was a personal one.

Briggs pointed out that the population of students from Nepal wasn’t the only one to grow.

“I think a lot of people get wrapped up with the Nepalese students,” she said. “And they are a big group, but we have a lot from Bangladesh, from India, Pakistan, Brazil, and they’re all fantastic kids, so I guess the biggest thing that I’m trying to stress is that it’s not just the Nepalese group. They’re great, too, [but] we saw a lot of growth in a lot of places and it really adds to the diversity of SVSU.”

International student ambassador Miranda Huang, a student from Taiwan who’s studying education at SVSU and English as a second language at Ming Chuan University’s Michigan satellite campus, said the increased numbers of international students is important, as domestic students are given a better understanding of cultures they will likely interact with at work.

“If you go to work in the future, the competition is not just in the United States, [but] all over the world … Since I was young, I’ve known my target [for employment] is not just Taiwan,” she said. “We know our competitors are not just Taiwanese. They’re all over the board. [We] come here to your culture, your school to learn your language, to learn your culture so [we] can do business with you in the future.”

Increased diversity on campus, Briggs said, has led to a more enriching experience not only in the classroom, but also on campus with events like the International Food Fest, the Holi celebration, and the newly established cricket pitch and team.

“It brings a whole different aspect to campus that’s phenomenal for our students and our faculty and staff, too,” Briggs said.

Whitney Cohen noted that experience abroad allows students to see situations from multiple views.

“(International students) have their own perspective, and they are putting everything through the lens of their home country, so sometimes if they can look at their situation and can see the perspective of an American student as well, that helps them learn about American culture, and that helps American students learn about their culture,” Cohen said. “Walking into the Marketplace [at Doan], for example, having never been there before is a whole different ballgame for students who are from, say, Nepal.”

The increased diversity doesn’t just allow American students to learn about other cultures or international students to learn about American culture, though, according to Cohen.

“Not only do the international students add to the diversity and knowledge base here on campus, but just like the American students and faculty are learning from one another, the international students learn a ton from the other international students as well,” Cohen said.

Even staff members are learning about other cultures from the new groups of students.

International Study Advisor Yingwen Zhang said she hadn’t met anyone from Nepal before this year.

“Because of Nepalese culture, when the students say ‘yes’ to you, at the same time they will shake their head. And it makes you feel like ‘is it yes or no?’ and you’re really confused,” Zhang said. “But afterwards I was on Google and I searched for their culture and finally I know, we are kind of different.”

Another big shift this year is in the types of programs into which international students enter.

“Historically for us, our international students have come in through the English Language Program and very few came in as degree-seeking students,” Briggs said. “That was the big shift. So last year only 9 students came in that were degree-seeking freshmen (traditional freshmen) and there are 228 this year.”

According to Thomas, the University has also begun to focus on “the short term, reversed study abroad programs” over the past few years.

“SVSU is not necessarily an internationally known university,” Thomas said. “We’ve got this beautiful campus, we’ve got these great faculty, and these short-term programs are good ways to expose a diverse student body to SVSU’s facilities and faculty without requiring them to have any sort of (long-term commitments).”

While these programs, which are often held over the summer, do not directly count for the high number of international students this year, they have contributed.

Zhang helped organize one such program over the summer for students from Shenyang Aerospace University. Of the eight students in the program, four returned for the fall semester.

“Earlier this week, one of the students said she wants to stay longer. She said, ‘I still want to stay here, I really enjoy studying here, especially the art.’ I know she really likes it,” Zhang said. “She feels like the resources here are more than the ones in China that she got.”

Of the four returning students, three are art students and one is enrolled in the English Language Program. Zhang said she hopes to see more diversity among the colleges of international students in the future.

“Most of the (international) students are in business or engineering programs, but art this year is really new … They can do something different for us,” Zhang said.

The number of guest students – international students on scholarship programs – has also increased this year, according to Briggs.

“(Guest students are) the best and brightest kids, (from) very competitive grant programs,” Briggs said. “They’re the ones you’re going to see from the places you typically don’t, like Tunisia, Israel and Myanmar.”

Cohen said the large numbers of international students could lead to future growth.

“Now that we have a large established community of international students, when they speak to potential students and they hear about SVSU, too, I think that helps them decide that this is a place they want to be,” Cohen said.

Now that the University has reached its goal for the international student population, Briggs hopes to stay at that number by pulling in a class of around 200 students next year.

“This class would not be something that we’d be necessarily looking to have every single year,” Briggs said. “This is a really big class … What we’re really looking at is the continued diversification. When you look at the different populations of students, there’s no one dominant population on campus anymore, which is great to see.”

Briggs also hopes domestic students continue to make international students feel welcome.

“If you see an international student, tell them hi,” Briggs said. “Invite them to something going on on campus and get them involved – that’s what we’re looking to do.”