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UWRF sets goals for global student increase

October 7, 2010

Living on the UW-River Falls campus is a small population of international students, who have come to represent culture and the University’s new goals to heighten international engagement.

The UWRF administration and faculty has set forth to continue on its goals of expanding global literacy and engagement. This goal includes sending students and professors abroad and hosting international students and professors, said Faculty Senate Chair Marshall Toman.

According to the annual demographics recorded by the UW-System, UWRF hosted 77 international students in 2009. This measure represents 1.1 percent of the student population.  In comparison, neighboring UW-Stout had 152 international students, therefore making up a population of 1.7 percent.

UWRF sends more students abroad than they receive. In 2009, the University sent 350 students overseas; making up 5.2 percent of the student body.

By 2012, UWRF administration has set a goal to have a 5 percent international student population, according the University’s website.

Some domestic students are unaware that the campus has any international students, said former President of the International Student Association Kai Vue.

Though they are few in number, international students are at UWRF, and they come to study from all over the world for a semester or for the entirety of their academic careers, said Director of First Year Experience Sarah Egerstrom.

Many international students are involved in business and teaching English to speakers of other languages, said Egerstrom.

Coming to America for college is a long process, said N Shuhada, a senior from Malaysia, studying food science and technology with chemistry.

“I wanted to come here for my major: America is the land of opportunity,” Shuhada said.

The UWRF application was short in comparison to the expensive American student visa application, which included a one on one interview with the U.S. Embassy, said Shuhada.

Similar to a domestic student, international students go through orientation. Health services addresses an issue that many students face when studying abroad. In turn, culture shock is an unavoidable layer for an international student, according to Health Services Director Alice Reilly-Myklebust.

Everything is different, including campus culture, so health services introduces the fundamentals of campus life. They talk about restrictions on smoking and alcohol, the acceptance of tattoos and piercings, the American obsession with personal hygiene and sexuality related issues, said Reilly-Myklebust.

“The most bizzare one for me was the weather. I had never faced winter before,” Shuhada said. “It was a fun one.”

Huan Qin, a sophomore studying communications from China, said she was pleasantly surprised that strangers said hello to her.

“The professors are really nice, but college life is very different,” Qin said.
Class structure and professor expectations are of great difference in Asia when compared to Western education standards. Grades were based almost entirely on much harder exams, according to Shuhada.

Where the exams serve to be a greater focus in Malaysia, however, Shuhada said that her academic experience at UWRF is not of lesser value. Having hands-on experiences in the classroom setting is an opportunity that she would not have had, had she continued with her education in her home country.

American college student attire was another change that both Shuhada and Qin were confronted with.

“In China, backpacks are for younger people, and you have to dress nicely everyday,” Qin said.

It is a sign of respect to the professors by dressing well, according to Shuhada.

Qin said she is satisfied with most things in River Falls, however, Americans seem to have some misconceptions about Asia.

“It’s a bit funny, like they don’t think we live in the 21st century,” Qin said. “It’s not 40 years ago.”

Vue said that some domestic student’s are unsure of an international students English proficiency.

However, according to Shuhada and Qin, they were both introduced to English over a decade before coming to America.

According to Vue, domestic students have a responsibility to approach international students.

“It’s a hard barrier to overcome,” said International Student Services Coordinator Shelby Rubbelke. “We need to provide opportunities to take place where students can engage with each other.”

Qin said that it would be a good opportunity for American and international students if American students were to come to the International Student Association meetings.

According to Shuhada, the meetings are similar to having a global conference where different cultures are represented.

UWRF is moving towards globalization, because people are increasingly questioning national boundaries, according to Toman.

“Higher education has to move to all come together, to address what society needs,” Toman said. “We need Americans who can successfully deal with international people.”

ISA meets at 5 p.m. every other Tuesday in the University Center’s Willow River Room.