More international students in state, but cultural issues remain

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COLUMBIA - Missouri saw a more than 5 percent increase in international students in 2014, according to a report from the Institute of International Education (IIE). It found the total of international students grew by more than 900 students.

Missouri is ranked twelfth in the nation for the number of international students, maintaining its ranking from the previous year. The University of Missouri - Columbia has been ranked the institution with the highest number of international students since 2010. It currently has 2,576.


Karla McCollum, who is the chair of Study Missouri Consortium and director of admissions for the international office at North Central Missouri College, said one of the reasons for the increase is cost.

"Missouri institutions are affordable compared to the rest of United States as well as our living expenses in Missouri are affordable," McCollum said.

One MU student, Willin Weng, said this helped in her decision to come to Missouri instead of another school on the East Coast. But the cost of studying in United States is more expensive compared to a college in Beijing, China, where she's from.

"It's actually worth it because you're studying abroad and you're in a different culture and you're learning a lot," Weng said. "It's more about eye-opening part than the money. You get to meet a lot of people, get to learn what is actually going on outside of your country and getting out of your comfort zone."

Weng said getting out of her comfort zone was not easy, since she was far away from her family and didn't have anyone to help her here. But she said joining organizations like Asian Christian Fellowship (ACF) has helped her adapt better.

"For my freshman year, I stayed in one of the dorms on campus. But I didn't realize that my dorm actually closed during, like, Thanksgiving break or winter break," Weng said. "I was involved in ACF back then, and so I actually asked a lot of people if they knew I could actually have a place to stay over the break."

She said a lot of people offered her their houses or a chance to travel with them.

"I think that's really helpful for me, just know that I don't have to be alone or by myself for the holidays when everyone else is celebrating their holidays with their family," she said.

Weng said one of the struggles she's faced as an international student is being treated differently.

"Whenever I hang out with a lot of the local students who don't have a lot of experiences, I guess, interacting with international students, they kind of sometimes assume that you can't really communicate well cause you don't really have perfect English," Weng said. She said she even worked on group projects in which the students held conversations as if she weren't there.

"I think it sometimes hurt international students when they're treated differently than American students," Weng said. "I think it also requires them to understand that, even if we're from out of the States, we're not different. We're actually trying to learn the culture and they also need to understand what we need. And they also need to understand that we want to be the same as them."


McCollum said another reason international students might feel left out is if they come and stay within their groups.

"If they pick a college that has a large amount of students from their country, and they don't break out from that, they may feel excluded because they are often haven't immersed," McCollum said.

"There will be some students or people on campus that will never accept those students because of their beliefs that are incorrect," McCollum said. "It will always be an on-going process, but it's something that, over time, we can see that those barriers comes down a little bit."

McCollum said international offices should make sure that international students are involved in diverse campus groups. Even rooming them with someone from another country can give them a chance to meet other people and become immersed in the U.S. culture, she said.

"I think international students bring diversity to Missouri," McCollum said. "It brings cultural awareness to our students, it's increasing their global view of our students here in Missouri. As well as you know, those students, when they go back to their country, they're taking something back with them from Missouri."

McCollum said schools are "actually creating a global impact through the international education programs on our campuses. I think it's a great thing to support here in Missouri where we can, in our own way, change the world through global education."