WKU students would be hard pressed to get through their time at WKU without hearing about the school’s “international reach.” This year, WKU has gotten closer to that statement with an increased number of international students and students studying abroad.
Study abroad numbers on the rise
In the 2011-2012 school year, 491 students studied abroad, according to the Office of International Programs and Study Abroad and Global Learning’s 2012-2013 annual report. By the 2012-2013 school year, that number had grown to 616 — an increase of 25 percent.
Craig Cobane, chief international officer, said a lot of that increase is due to marketing, which resulted in more than 1,000 students attending the Study Abroad Fair last fall, and making the process of studying abroad easier.
Students can now browse Study Abroad options online rather than having to go to the office and look through pamphlets.
“Now what you can do is you can sit in your room and you can search 4,000 different programs that WKU has partnerships with,” Cobane said.
For this year, Cobane estimates the number of students abroad will be in the high 600s.
Study Abroad has also been making more scholarships available, particularly to students with the most financial need.
Cobane said he wants to “take resources and really try to funnel it to the students who have the most need because we want to support all students having a study abroad experience.”
There is also the Diversity Abroad Grant for minority students, which Cobane said has two parts — one which could help traditional, ethnic minority students and two that offers aid to students who are underrepresented, such as nontraditional students or students with disabilities.
One Study Abroad program that students can choose is Harlaxton College in Grantham, England. This semester, WKU sent its 300th student to Harlaxton — Paducah sophomore Shelby Schaefer.
Schaefer said her time there has flown by, and she has been on weekend trips to London, Ireland, Scotland, Munich and The Lake District.
“I can now argue from a first-person perspective on the stereotypes I have heard all my life,” she said. “I have definitely realized the small differences between Grantham, England, and the U.S. I miss things like American mustard, ketchup with preservatives, sinks with a single faucet and pick-up trucks.”
However, Schaefer said she likes that there’s a coffee tea shop on every corner in England, and she likes walking everywhere. As far as her school, she said her British studies class accounts for half of her workload, but the class goes on field trips, which she said makes things more exciting.
“This course in America would be completely different,” Schaefer said. “When we have discussions about the way certain cultures rear or educate their children, someone in our class has usually taken a weekend trip to the place we are discussing and has a firsthand account to share as an example.”
“Bring the world to the students”
Cobane said the Office of International Programs could be even more important than Study Abroad because it can benefit everyone at WKU, even those who never leave the country.
“If we’re truly going to internationalize the experience here at WKU, we have to do it on campus,” he said. “We’ve got to bring the world to the students.”
In the fall of 2011, there were 679 students from foreign countries at WKU, according to WKU’s fact book. In the fall of 2012, that number rose to 766.
Stephanie Sieggreen, the director of the International Student Office, attributes this to increased recruitment of international students.
But despite the growing numbers of international and Study Abroad students, the budget hasn’t grown overall. In the budget for fiscal year 2009-2010, the budgets for these offices were under the category “Chief International Officer” and the total budget was $1,331,674. For this fiscal year, these offices are under a category on the budget labeled “International Programs” and the total allocated is $1,174, 275.
Cobane said Study Abroad’s budget specifically has gotten a little more money, but no one’s budgets are increasing by a lot right now.
Attaining more international students
As far as the money international students bring in, those students have to pay double the tuition of domestic students, which Sieggreen said is an investment for them.
Hosannah Evie, an international student from Nigeria, is spending her first year at WKU taking courses in the Navitas program. The Navitas program is a pathways program that provides international students with the skills they need to be successful as undergraduates at WKU, according to Sieggreen.
Evie said she is enjoying living in Bowling Green. “People are really friendly here.”
Her second semester at WKU has been harder, she said, but she has also made more friends. She said she has a Korean friend, a friend from Brazil, friends from Africa and even from her own country. But she’s also made friends with students from the United States living in the dorms. WKU is different from what she’s used to.
“It’s a different culture; a different way of thinking,” Evie said.
She’s gotten to experience American traditions, like celebrating Thanksgiving with a friend. However, Evie said she misses Nigerian food.
“I’ve been here a long time and I haven’t gotten used to the food yet,” she said with a laugh.
As far as her education at WKU, Evie said she has good teachers in the Navitas program. But Evie is eager to move out of the program and into regular WKU classes next year.
Sieggreen said some international students adjust to the culture shock of moving to a different country more than others. When there are larger populations of students from one country, she said they gravitate toward each other.
“That’s what they’re used to; it’s comfortable,” she said.
In fall 2012, Saudi Arabia had the highest number of international students at WKU, with 240, followed by China with 147 students and India with 98.
One of the big roles of Sieggreen’s office is getting students acclimated to the new culture they’re in, because they are Hilltoppers too. She also said domestic students can benefit from interaction with international students.
“I think it just opens your mind to getting to know about another culture, getting to talk to somebody from someplace else — it helps break down stereotypes; ignorance about a certain region,” she said.