Foreign students diversify campus
Any freshman or transfer student coming to a school for the first time will probably admit that it can be overwhelming. But for a record number at the university comes the added challenge of adjusting to a new culture as well.
For freshman financing major Bella Xu, the transition has been a positive one so far.
Xu came from China to begin her college education after learning about the university on the Internet, and she chose it for several reasons.
“The most important is that UMHB can provide one-on-one attention to students,” she said. “Also, there’s not too many Chinese here, so it can give me a good environment to practice English. And UMHB is a Christian university.”
This is Xu’s first time to come to The U.S., and she says the experience is almost indescribable.
“I’m not sure how to explain it. It’s really a feeling. When I first arrived in the United States, I felt freedom, and freedom is very important,” she said.
Since beginning classes, she has seen a great difference from the style of schooling she was used to.
“In Chinese education, they pay more attention to scores, and American education pays more attention to what students are really interested in,” Xu said.
This year, the university hosts 117 internationals students, a big jump compared to previous years.
Director for International Student Services Elizabeth Tanaka said that much of the reason for the increase is due to growing partnerships overseas, particularly in China, where, along with India, the majority of the university’s international student population comes from.
“We usually have a very large group of Indian graduate students come in. On the other hand, we are forming stronger relationships with one of our partners in China, and her company sent us 19 students, which is a record all over the place,” she said. “We’re hoping to keep that going.”
Through the growth, Tanaka said she sees a change in the dynamics of the current group of international students in comparison to years past.
“I don’t know if it’s because of the bigger number, or if we just hit the jackpot, but they’re very confident and very outgoing, and they’re immediately getting involved,” she said.
Tanaka attributes some of these positive qualities to the work being done by International Student Services.
“We try to improve our processes every year,” she said. “We changed up our orientation this year, and hopefully that’s making a difference as well. We’re able to look at what’s working and what’s not working, and what can be improved.”
With so many options for education in America, Tanaka believes that the atmosphere at the university is what keeps the students here and helps them the most with their transition.
“I give UMHB full marks for being a welcoming community,” she said. “We had American students involved in the BSM international ministry go to the airport with us to help carry luggage and be a friendly face. I can’t put a value on that. It’s so wonderful.”
In the time that she’s been on campus, Xu has already experienced this kindness and hospitality.
“The students and teachers are really friendly. I like to meet the local people and make American friends. They always invite me to join the party, to come play volleyball and things. It’s very exciting, and I enjoy my life here,” she said.
As a leader for the BSM’s International Student Ministry, junior exercise sport science major Aaron Miller wants to be part of welcoming the students to the school and making them feel at home.
Miller’s parents served as missionaries in Spain, where he spent seven years. That experience has helped him to relate to others through the ministry.
“I hope they gain friends, first and foremost, and a little bit of comfort. They can come and ask for help. They’re not doing this alone,” Miller said. “It’s a little bit hard moving overseas. I was an international student once too.”
Through the BSM’s ministry, Miller and others take time to get to know the students during events like the Howdy Party coming up Sept. 22, as well as weekly movie and game nights, in hopes that they will feel accepted.
“International students tend to clump to themselves, so if we take the initiative to go and reach out to them, they’ll come into our community and become a little bit more social,” he said.
Though he knows the adjustment can be tough, Miller already notices many of the internationals becoming more familiar with the American way of life.
“At times I think it’s been a little bit hard for them, just the cultural barrier and the language, but I’ve seen a lot of them have really grasped the language, and it’s gotten a lot better just in the last three to four weeks,” he said.
Tanaka thinks that by getting to know each other, the experience is as enriching for American students as it is for the international students.
She said, “You have people at UMHB who have never left Bell County, and for sure have never left Texas, so it gives them an opportunity to see that there are other viewpoints in the world and other ways to think about things than just small-town southern America.”