Pass by 10 people on the way to class and chances are that one of them left their families, friends and home countries to study at the University.
A large number of international students are attracted to the University – Michigan ranks ninth in the nation with 4,149 international students, according to an article published in this week’s issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education – and there are many reasons behind their decisions to study here.
LSA sophomore Akshay Bajpaee, who attended school in Hong Kong and is originally from India, said his high school administrators and parents encouraged him to study either in the United States or Great Britain.
“It was expected, ever since I entered high school,” Bajpaee said.
LSA sophomore John Lim, an international student from Singapore, said his parents studied in the United States and likewise expected him to do so.
The educational opportunities offered by the University also influenced the decisions of Lim and Bajpaee, as well as many other international students.
“The University of Michigan is well known for its reputation,” said Shahrun Sofian, an LSA sophomore from Malaysia. “It is a huge opportunity in every single thing.”
American schools, including the University, are known for having the best engineering programs in the world, said Onur Cetin, president of the Turkish Student Association.
“The focus (at the College of Engineering) is industry-sponsored projects. Almost all the graduate students are sponsored, which means I am not paying anything to the school,” said Cetin, an Engineering doctoral student. “If the industry is paying you money, it’s something important to them.”
In addition to the quality of education, diversity factored into LSA junior Joy Kuang’s decision to leave Hong Kong and attend the University. Kuang said tourists account for most of the diversity in Hong Kong.
“I wanted to go some place where people are different,” she said.
While the experiences and excitement of studying in a different part of the world attract many international students, the cultural and academic differences pose major challenges. To cope with the difficulties they face in adjusting to college life at the University, some international students turned to friends and family who had studied in the United States.
Kuang said her sister helped her by explaining slang terms such as “all-nighter” and advising her on where to go for certain services while the two attended the University. Kuang’s sister graduated at the end of her second year.
“My parents weren’t really nervous since my sister was here to take care of me,” Kuang said.
Cetin said Turkish students who had studied at the University warned him about the practical, everyday problems he would face, such as opening electrical accounts and dealing with landlords.
But plenty of student organizations are ready to step in and help international students who do not have friends or family to help them.
Groups like the Turkish Students Association focus on helping international students make the transition to independent life in the United States, Cetin said.
“The real services for the newcomers, for the first few months, are advising on how to solve the problems,” he said.
Many student associations also help internationals meet other students. Kuang said she met many Americans and other international students through AIESEC, a global organization that promotes cultural understanding through internship exchange programs.
Bajpaee became involved in many extracurricular activities, such as The Michigan Independent, the Indian American Student Association and the Hong Kong Student Association to forget the distance separating him from his family and home country.
“I was known for never being in my room,” Bajpaee said. “It really helped in adjusting to the environment, meeting new people. I didn’t have the time to feel homesick.”