International students on rise, give UM multicultural feel

School of Communication
University of Miami

For University of Miami students who are looking to experience other cultures, the answer can be found right down the hall of their residential college.

With more than 1,800 international students registered for the 2010-11 school year, the foreign influence on campus is larger than ever. While these international students are mostly in graduate programs, the number of undergraduate applicants from abroad increases each year.

Cristina Florez, assistant director of the International Student and Scholar Services, said this increase in international students has been a trend for the last 10 years.

“You would think that 9/11 would cause a decrease, but each year, there’s more than ever before,” she explained.

Nationally, the numbers of international students on American campuses are increasing as well. A survey by the Institute of International Education found a three percent increase in the number of foreign students studying in the United States between the 2008-09 and 2009-10 academic years.

International students gather for Thanksgiving 2010 at Allen Hall at UM. Source: Alex Fruin.

Dawei Wu, a sophomore at the University of Miami, said that when it comes to college education, more and more people he knows are studying in America.

“Not many of my friends study in China. Some of them chose the UK, others chose America,” he said.

Wu, a native of Beijing, China, is just one of more than 500 University of Miami students from his country. According to Florez, Chinese students have been the most common foreign UM students for years, most of whom study in programs throughout the School of Business.

A recent New York Times article cited that the 2009-10 saw the rise of Chinese students across the United States practically double in just one academic year.

Today, there are more than 125,000 Chinese students in American Universities — making up 18 percent of the national total of international students.

While the University of Miami welcomes a large number of international students onto campus, many American students don’t seem to realize that a majority of them aren’t just exchange students, but rather here for the full extent of their college education.

A large sign welcomes students to a Thanksgiving party at UM. Source: Alex Fruin.

Jo Wright, a sophomore from Essex, England, said that most of the time, other students just assume she is studying at UM for the semester.

“I’m in the Business School and there are a lot of other international students. I think most of the time, people aren’t surprised that I’m from somewhere else, just surprised that I’m a regular full-time student.”

Wright started as a freshman in the fall of 2009. Like many international students at UM, she applied only to American universities. “I had come to America before and I thought, ‘I’m never going to be able to live here except for University.’”

Wu also decided during his time at an international high school in Beijing that he would come to study in the United States for college. Though he originally began at the University of Denver, for Wu it wasn’t a question of whether or not he would study in America, but rather what university he would come to call home.

This pattern seems to be the same for international students who are a part of exchange programs.

Australian students Brett Lenoff and Jahan Navidi said that while they were deciding where to study abroad, they didn’t really think about other countries — even though the American student visa process often takes more than a year to complete.

A collection of national flags on display at Allen Hall. Source: Alex Fruin.

“For me, I thought briefly about Spain. But I had always wanted to come to America and this was my chance,” recalled Navidi. “It’s a big process though; I started applying over a year before coming here.”

Lenoff didn’t have as many obstacles when applying to American schools; as a dual-citizen of Australia and the United States, he doesn’t have to worry about the many questions of immigration that require his international peers seek the aid of Florez and the other members of the ISSS office.

“Our main concern is their immigration status,” said Florez. “Anything related to permission status that would cause them to lose their student status, we deal with. There are so many different situations, but it’s always a process when they leave the country and come back.”

Even those students who travel across the world to attend the University of Miami often return home for winter and summer breaks. Each time they leave the country, they must be sure that their visas will be accepted upon their return for the following semester.

“Whenever I come back into the United States through Miami International, the immigration process will take nearly two hours,” Wright said. “I haven’t had problems with my visa, but still the process takes a while.”

When Navidi and other Australian exchange students recently traveled to the Bahamas, he found that the screening process for international students seemed to be extended. “There seemed like there were extra measures of security for the Australians in our group, but the only time I’ve ever had a problem was coming into San Francisco when I came here to study. But that’s because I didn’t have a document I needed.”

Whether they’re a part of an exchange program or are full-time students, international students have their own Orientations when arriving at UM– an effort the school makes to help them come into American culture. Throughout the year, international student offices and organizations host events celebrating the traditions of students’ home countries.

“A lot of them will return home for winter and summer breaks, but not the other holidays like Thanksgiving,” said Florez.

For the past 27 years, the Intensive English Program has hosted an international Thanksgiving on the Wednesday before the American holiday, when most Miami students return home for the weekend. International students and faculty members celebrate their cultures by bringing traditional dishes from their native countries to share with the international community on campus.

UM’s Allen Hall is home of the UM Study Abroad Program and the Intensive English Program. Source: Alex Fruin.

While some days, international students choose to celebrate their heritage, often they are more excited to learn about American culture.

Though Wu said that most of his friends at UM are other Chinese students he has met– that’s not the case for many others, especially those students from English-speaking countries. Many of them plan to return to their native countries after their studies in America, but hope to bring a little bit of America—and UM back with them.

“People who have similar cultures to Americans don’t really need to stick together as much,” said Wright. “The difference between my university and those of my friends at are home is the school spirit, they don’t have that in England. Here, students are excited to get involved in clubs outside of their majors.”

“There’s an absurd amount of Australians who study here,” said Navidi. “The image of America back home is not good. But I really have had great experiences with the Americans and everything here — I’m not ready to leave.”

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