SJR Column: International Students, December 2012

Many members of the Springfield community came to the UIS campus recently to enjoy the annual International Festival, an evening of performances, exhibits and cuisine that celebrates the cultural diversity of our campus. International students, who this year come to UIS from 38 different countries, are the heart of this celebration. They reflect a strong increase in international student enrollment across the United States, a trend that signals the continued conviction on the part of international students and their parents that a U.S. degree is an important investment in their future. But what do international enrollments actually contribute to our campus?

I spent some time with three exceptional international students this past week and their stories provide part of the multi-dimensional answer to that question. Archana, Yiman and Zehra are among 242 international students at UIS and among the approximately 36,000 students who made Illinois their destination for college this year, ranking Illinois 5th in the country for hosting international students (according to the Institute for International Education’s just released annual Open Doors Report).

Archana is from Chennai on the Bay of Bengal, a major economic and cultural hub in South India. India is the second highest country of origin (behind only China) for international students studying in the U.S. Archana is part of a “pipeline” of students from India who have been coming to UIS for several years to earn their degrees in our strong Computer Science program. She followed her cousin, now a UIS alum, and she will complete her degree in just a few weeks. Archana is one of many international students who appreciate the teaching-focused academic experience at UIS. “My Computer Science professors are so good,” she says. “If you want help, you can get it – and usually immediately.” Archana plans to stay in the U.S. for an additional year of what is known as practical training before she returns home to pursue her career.

Yiman is one of 72 UIS students from China, most of whom are participating in institutional partnerships that UIS’s College of Business and Management has formed with several Chinese universities. Both of her parents are business professionals and Yiman is following in their footsteps, pursuing an undergraduate degree in Accounting. She has been studying English since the age of five, which she tells me has greatly eased her transition to challenging college classes taught in a second language. Yiman lives in UIS’s new International House with roommates from Jamaica, the U.S. and China and is embracing every opportunity to grow and expand her intercultural horizons.

Zehra is from one of my favorite destinations in the world – Istanbul – straddling the Bosphorus – the historic heart of the Ottoman Empire. How does a student from Istanbul end up in Springfield, Illinois? Via Fort Hays State University in Kansas and then marriage to a physician employed at our SUI School of Medicine, of course. Zehra is pursuing a Master’s degree in Communication at UIS and she is also a great example of that UIS theme: Leadership lived. She is President of the UIS International Students Association, an organization open to all students who are interested in other cultures. Among many positive attributes of the UIS experience, Zehara loves the “right-sized” community of Springfield. “Coming from a large city,” she says, “I really enjoy the small community where I can feel comfortable and get places easily.” As a student leader, Zehra has been active in promoting programs like the International Festival that bring together and develop relationships among international students, U. S. students and members of the community.

To be sure, Archana, Yiman and Zehra are receiving a valuable university education at UIS; but to answer my earlier question, their contributions to our campus are also significant. First, of course, international students contribute to the university’s budget, paying out-of-state tuition that is significantly more than in-state. They also support local businesses and communities with their spending on rent, transportation and other living expenses. In fact, according to a recent study conducted by the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs (NAFSA), international students’ net contribution to Illinois’ economy in 2011-12 was slightly more than a billion dollars.

More importantly, students from around the world bring valuable international perspectives into our classrooms and on to our campuses; helping to prepare American students for global professions and contributing to the preparation of the next generation of our country’s global citizens.

They also create enduring bridges between the U.S. and other countries, bridges that fuel intellectual exchange, long-term business relationships and ongoing intercultural understanding.

As our international enrollment grows, the UIS campus may look a little less like Illinois; but it will look more like the world … and that is a good thing for all students regardless of where they come from.

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield

Chancellor Susan J. Koch