Nearly half of American universities have seen a decline in foreign-student enrollment for the 2017-2018 school year, according to a recent survey of nearly 500 campuses in the United States. The survey, conducted by the Institute of International Education, found an average decline of 7 percent in the fall of 2017.
Despite this trend, Eastern Michigan University (EMU) remains a top choice university for international students. Nearly 1,000 international students from more than 80 nations currently study at EMU. This is, in part, because of EMU’s open, friendly and diverse environment.
One of the keys to foreign student success is providing a place where they feel welcome and comfortable, says Anne L. Balazs, interim dean of the EMU College of Business.
“We're fortunate to have a strong multicultural environment here in Washtenaw County and in southeast Michigan,” says Balazs. “The more our international students see diversity around them, the more they see others like them, the more comfortable they become. That translates into increased benefits from the overall experience. That’s our goal.”
Michelle Henry, director of EMU’s director of graduate business programs, agrees.
“An open and diverse environment helps us to have a robust international student base,” explains Henry. “Students are exposed to different cultures and can learn with – and from – fellow students from all regions of the world.”
But what about a political environment that may be generating fear among international students and, potentially, causing a decline in enrollment?
During a recent visit to South Korea, Balazs and Henry experienced that fear first hand. Students expressed concern about travel to the U.S., and whether they would be welcome in the United States, given the current negative climate.
“Our response [to student concerns] is that we are experienced in welcoming young people from all over the world, and helping them to achieve their goals,” explains Balazs. “We underscore our overall track record of success with international students and also showcase our #YouAreWelcomeHere program.”
#YouAreWelcomeHere is a nation-wide collegiate campaign designed to affirm that U.S. higher education institutions are diverse, friendly, safe and committed to student development.
Through participation in the campaign, more than 300 colleges and universities across the country are engaging students, faculty and staff in demonstrating unity and inclusion. By sharing photos and videos, and hosting special events, schools are welcoming and supporting international students while communicating that America supports internationalization.
Although EMU’s commitment to diversity and inclusion always has existed, understanding that EMU is part of a national allegiance, in collaboration with higher education institutions across the country, helps international students gain a higher level of comfort.
International Partnerships Matter
Another factor driving EMU’s position as a top choice for international students is the university’s long-standing commitment to collaborative programs with universities around the world.
Coming to the U.S. through partnership programs helps ease student fears and provides a sense of security and safety, according to Henry and Balazs.
A standout example of such a program is EMU’s business school partnership with Keimyung University (KMU), a private institution in Daegu, South Korea. For more than 15 years, KMU has offered its students an opportunity to pursue dual degrees by completing a two-year program at KMU, then finishing the remaining two-year curriculum at EMU. A standout example of such a program is EMU’s business school partnership with Keimyung University (KMU), a private institution in Daegu, South Korea. For more than 15 years, KMU has offered its students an opportunity to pursue dual degrees by completing a two-year program at KMU, then finishing the remaining two-year curriculum at EMU. Many of those students decide to stay and pursue EMU graduate degrees.
The seed for this once experimental project was planted 15 years ago. It was the powerful result of a relationship between Dr. Sangjin Yoo, who coordinates the dual-degree program and facilitates student recruitment at KMU, and Dr. Sock Chung, a professor at EMU. Today, the program has blossomed into a model partnership that other EMU colleges are adopting.
“I’m very proud of my past record and happy to have played a critical role in the program. This excellent program has grown to have 123 alumni and has become well known to many high school and university students in Korea. My students are happy with their cross-cultural business studies and employment opportunities in the U.S. and Korea,” Dr. Yoo says.
Experiencing the South Korean Culture
EMU leaders understand that relationships are not sustained without face-to-face interaction and shared cultural experiences.
Each year, select EMU leaders travel to South Korea to meet with KMU students who will be attending EMU, visit with program alumni and meet KMU leadership.
Balazs and Henry made the trip to South Korea in October 2017, accompanied by Dr. Chung. In addition to many meetings, with Dr. Chung’s guidance they were able to successfully experience the rich culture of Daegu and nearby cities. In 2015, leaders of the two universities also renewed their fruitful partnership for another five years.
Navigating a Strange New World
What does it take to become an international exchange student?
Balazs says students selected for this program are brave. They are strong. They have an inquisitive nature and a clear sense of adventure.
For those bold enough to take the leap, the rewards are plentiful.
“Without question, our EMU/KMU dual-degree program provides an exciting personal experience,” says Balazs. “But students of this program also benefit professionally. They strengthen their English skills, gain a degree from an accredited U.S. university, and will accelerate their career opportunities, either here in the U.S., back home in South Korea or at other locations around the world.
Najung Kim agrees.
Kim, 26, a student in the program, graduated from EMU in December 2017. She enjoyed her time on the Ypsilanti campus so much that she has decided to apply to EMU’s graduate business program.
Kim says she appreciates the diversity at EMU. As an international student, she has been able to see and appreciate a different way of life, immerse herself in a new culture, and make new friends. Importantly, she is confident she will return to South Korea a better person and a more skilled professional.
“This experience is a great opportunity to find another part of me,” Kim said. “If I was staying only in South Korea I could never experience all the other different cultures. People need to get out of their comfort zone once in their lifetime.”
Kim is proud of what she has achieved at EMU and, in a nod to a university tradition in South Korea, she created a special design for shirts and jackets that KMU/EMU graduates can wear at home.
“We have a tradition in South Korea to have jackets for our university major,” Kim explained. “The design shows spirit and shows off our major. We did not have this until I created it and now they are wearing it (the EMU/KMU jacket) in school and everywhere.”
In addition to her classroom work and EMU education, Kim has enjoyed an unexpected benefit during her time away from home – the unmatched beauty of a place that those around her call “Pure Michigan.”
“I love the night in Michigan,” she reveals. “It is so pure and beautiful. I went to Upper Michigan to see the lake and stars and it was amazing. Big nature here is magnificent.”
Interested in international admissions at EMU? Contact International Admissions by email, by Skype at EMUInternationalAdmissions, by WhatsApp at +1.734.480.8548, or via their office phone at 734.487.0205.