Jo’anna Lindamulage is part of a growing trend nationally as American universities diversify their campuses with talented, international undergraduates.
The Institute of International Education’s Open Doors Report found that the number of international students at colleges and universities in the United States increased by eight percent to an all-time high of 671,616 in the 2008/09 academic year, the largest percentage increase in international student enrollments since 1980/81.
The report also found that the largest growth was in international undergraduate enrollments, a population of students that is also growing at UC. That growth is the result of a concentrated effort to bring in talented undergraduates from around the world. UC has been a pioneer in international student recruitment, with over 38 representatives working in 28 countries.
“Over the past three years, we’ve averaged about a 25-to-35 percent increase in confirmations of international undergraduate students each year,” says Jonathan Weller, director of UC International Admissions.
Like the rest of the country, a good chunk of that growth is coming from China. “In fall 2007, we had 18 international undergraduates from China. That number rose to 77 last fall,” says Weller.
“The two top countries for sending students to the U.S. are India and China,” explains Weller. “Both countries have rapidly expanding economies and both cultures highly value education – especially a U.S. higher education,” Weller says.
“We’re also seeing more growth from China because of our partnership with the ELS Language Center at UC, which provides intensive English programs to international students interested in pursuing an education at English-speaking universities,” Weller says. The center opened on UC’s campus in 2008. The Cincinnati ELS Center has nearly 200 international students studying full-time, intensive English. Most of these students hope to enroll at UC once they complete their English training at ELS.
Cooperative education – founded at UC – alternates classroom study with paid work experience at companies around the nation and the world. “I think co-op provides a great advantage after graduation,” Lindamulage says. “Not only do you get paid work experience, but you’re also making contacts with potential employers before graduation.”
She says that she is often asked about co-op at her job in UC International Admissions, as well as what the weather is like in Cincinnati. Lindamulage says the climate in her home country of Sri Lanka is like summertime year round, so Cincinnati’s changing seasons (and last winter’s significant snowfall) were new discoveries for her, in addition to her experience in a new country. “Here, the seasons are changing every three months, so you need to completely change what you’re wearing!”
She says she also encountered something shared by most international students – homesickness. “I would like to say that for international students, when they come here and there is no family around, we can really miss our home. It can be a tough time during the first quarter or the first two quarters, and I’ve seen some students go back home. But, I feel that if you try your hardest to get past that initial period, then you’ll be fine.”
She says her UC orientation experience for international students last fall was helpful. That program included Metro bus transportation and a shopping trip, since international students have to pack lightly on their flight to Cincinnati. “Learning the Metro bus route was very helpful, since public transportation is different from my country,” she says. “We also took a tour to become familiar with campus, and on the shopping trip, I bought some little things for my apartment.”
Lindamulage is now working with UC Admissions to plan for this fall’s international student orientation program that begins on Monday, Sept. 13. The program will include an “Amazing Race”-themed event on campus on Sept. 16, followed by a welcome dinner at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.
As part of her summer job in International Admissions, Lindamulage has been sharing her own personal discoveries as an international undergrad with prospective students from around the world. “We’ve been talking with them through Skype and Facebook and e-mails,” she says.
Students from around the world are also taking a closer look at UC from their own homes, in their own language. UC now has 10 foreign language virtual tours available on its website. The tours are led by international students and staff native to the language of the tour. The languages include Arabic, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Nepali, Spanish, Turkish and Vietnamese.
The native tours are especially helpful for undergraduate students because parents play a critical role in choosing their children’s university, Weller says. Though the children may be fluent in English, the parents are often not, so native language information is a key connection.