Foreign students get MU welcome

The International Center helps students get oriented in Columbia and offers a program introducing them to Americans.
Monday, August 22, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:19 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Being an international student can be a challenging experience, especially at the beginning.

About 1,400 students from around the world were enrolled at MU during the 2004-05 school year, and that number is expected to increase this fall.

The International Center is one of the first stops for students from abroad. On Aug. 15, about 250 new students gathered in Memorial Union for an orientation session to learn more about programs the center offers.

They also learned about Columbia and the places they can shop, have fun and buy housewares and other necessities.

“Everything is set for us,” said Rone Tacastacas, a student from the Philippines, after the first part of the daylong orientation that included introducing the students to the center’s staff and giving them brochures about activities the center offers. “The orientation worked great for me.”

The center also offers tours of campus, downtown and other parts of the city and trips to Wal-Mart for students trying to get their bearings.

Programs offered by the center are designed to help students cope with differences in culture, language and even the academic system itself.

The center estimates that 80 percent of international students “never set foot” in an American home and is trying to increase contact between its students and Americans through a program called American LIFE, or League of International Friendship Encounters. LIFE matches international students with Americans for friendship and cultural exchange.

David Currey, assistant director of the center, encouraged students at the orientation to sign up for the program, which matched 80 international students with Americans last fall. “Let us double the number this time,” he said.

The center also helps the students with scholarships and offers sessions to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. Such work is part of an effort to promote programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and attract students from abroad to study, learn and exchange experiences in the United States.

Some international students find the center more useful than others.

Nam Kyoungmtn, a Korean student who’s been at MU for two years, said he hasn’t felt the need to take advantage of the center’s programs. “The International Center focuses mainly on newcomers,” he said.

Ka Yu Ko, a Chinese student studying biochemistry, said the center has been helpful for her, especially in connecting with other students from China.

James McCartney, director of the international center, said the programs aren’t only for newcomers. As students approach graduation, “we work a great deal with them in terms of advice about employment,” he said.

All new international students are obligated to go to the center to check in and show their student visas or they will be in violation of their visa status and will not be able to register for classes.

Hussain Hanbazaza, a student from Saudi Arabia who has been at MU for three years and volunteers at the center, said he wishes more students would take advantage of its programs.

The International Student and Scholar Services budget is $330,000 per year, including staff salaries and programming.

China had the most international students at MU in the last school year, followed by India and Korea.

There was a 1 percent increase in Asian enrollment and a 24 percent decline in students from the Middle East. Arts and sciences and engineering are the most popular academic programs.

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