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International student population increases by 26 percent

RELEASED: Sept. 22, 2010

EAU CLAIRE — "Priceless." That's how Daven Ghandi Rajan, from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, describes his experience as an international student at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

graphic about international students"It's all because of the opportunities that are available to individuals seeking personal growth, leadership roles, being active in the university — things I wouldn't necessarily associate with back home," said Rajan, a political science major in his fourth year at UW-Eau Claire.

Opportunities at UW-Eau Claire have been a draw this year for a record 215 international students. That number represents a 26 percent increase over last year's number of international students and includes students from countries — such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen — that have not been represented among the university's student population for a long time, said Dr. Karl Markgraf, director of UW-Eau Claire's Center for International Education.

"These are populations we're really happy to have here," Markgraf said. "The students bring additional diversity to the campus that is very welcome. The Middle East is an absolutely critical global region, and one that was underrepresented in our student population. Having students from the Middle East provides an opportunity for our U.S. students to meet their peers from that region and get to know them personally."

Of UW-Eau Claire's 215 international students, 130 students representing 34 countries are attending the university for the first time this fall.

Markgraf attributes the increase in international students to enhanced recruitment efforts. Those efforts are being undertaken to work toward the university's strategic goal of accelerating global learning, part of which includes growing the number of international students on campus, he said. Specifically, in 2009 UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich challenged the CIE to double the university's number of international students by 2014.

The recruitment efforts have been focused in several areas, Markgraf said.

First, UW-Eau Claire continues to partner with universities abroad to offer programs through which students can earn dual degrees from UW-Eau Claire and their home institutions. Students in these programs spend part of their time as undergraduates at UW-Eau Claire and do the remainder of their studies at their home universities. UW-Eau Claire currently partners with universities in China on these dual-degree programs, and a similar program with a university in Vietnam is in the planning phase, Markgraf said.

Second, UW-Eau Claire works with agencies that assist families of students abroad who wish to study in the United States.

"We're strengthening our relationships with these educational advising agencies abroad to help get the word out about UW-Eau Claire," Markgraf said, noting that new international students from China, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and India enrolled at UW-Eau Claire this fall through such agencies.

Third, UW-Eau Claire has increased its number of international students through exchange programs by sponsor organizations such as World Learning, the American Councils for International Education, the Open Society Institute, the America for Bulgaria Foundation and the U.S. Department of State (which sponsors the Institute of International Education's Fulbright Program). This fall, 19 students from 16 countries are attending UW-Eau Claire through these programs, Markgraf said.

"UW-Eau Claire works in partnership with a number of these organizations throughout the world to identify outstanding students who need financial support to study here," Markgraf said. "Although some are privately funded, most of these organizations are funded by the U.S. State Department and therefore represent a nationally identified strategic initiative of the U.S. government to further our connections and friendships in a variety of global regions."

David Steinfeld, a senior psychology major from Sulingen, Germany, is beginning his fourth year as an international student at UW-Eau Claire. His desire to get an undergraduate education with a liberal arts emphasis led him to attend UW-Eau Claire, which he had learned about while he was a high school exchange student in Wisconsin, Steinfeld said.

"Since I have taken general education courses from other disciplines along with classes for my major and minor, I think I have become a more well-rounded person who is aware of more issues not just pertaining to my major but other issues concerning our society and environment," Steinfeld said.

Yuchen Xie, a sophomore accounting major from Xi'an, China, said she appreciates the opportunity as an international student to develop a better understanding of people from around the world, as well as the many resources available to her as an undergraduate at UW-Eau Claire.

"It's a big difference between the two education systems," Xie said. "I think I get more opportunities to get to know the real business world here. Also, the small classes provide students with more resources and chances to directly interface with professors."

The increased presence of international students on campus also benefits American students, as well as university faculty and staff, Markgraf said.

"International educational exchange is one of the most expedient ways to establish and foster global understanding, because it happens on a personal level," Markgraf said. "The more we get to know each other, the more we understand each other. Then the world becomes smaller, and seeing the differences becomes less important than seeing what we have in common."

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JP/JB

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