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Greeting the Internationals

31 Aug Posted by in Academics | Comments Off on Greeting the Internationals

One of the pleasant experiences of the week before classes involves seeing the international students, particularly the undergraduates, show up early. This year Mason greeted an unprecedented number of Chinese 1-2-1 students (who had spent their first year at a Chinese partner university, then two years with us, then back to China and ultimately earning dual degrees). We also saw a sizable cohort from our former Ras-al-Khaimah campus; I’d first met some of them literally four years ago, when they started an English-language program before we fully (and as it turned out, briefly), opened for business. They arrived in good spirits and a strong sense of camarderie. There weren’t the same opportunities to greet international graduate students, but here too the numbers are strong with some interesting shifts in places of origin.

While technology now allows international students to maintain ties with friends and families back home in ways impossible in previous decades, one still must admire the sense of adventure involved in committing to work in an initially strange place and a language not one’s own. And this makes the success of these students, ranking often among our top performers, all the more impressive. The two graduating groups of Chinese undergraduates we’ve had so far are a case in point, with abundant academic honors both here and at their Chinese university.

We know less about the impact these students have on their American peers. We’ve greatly improved our conscious efforts to mix students, rather than cluster by country of origin. One of my colleagues just told me that her sophomore son will have a Chinese roommate, having last year roomed with someone from Benin; he’s clearly accumulating knowledge (including cooking tips) outside the classroom. And we have slightly more systematic information about how some of the international students participate in general undergraduate organizations. But while firmly contending that the presence of international students fuels the process of global education more generally, it would be good to gain further information about what kinds of impacts they have. Certainly the numbers and diverse origins of our international group provide abundant opportunities.