International Student Population Growing at JMU

Dr. Rose meets with international students
JMU President Linwood Rose meets with students at ceremony for opening of the International Study Center in Memorial Hall.

Opening of International Study Center Celebrated

Earning a college degree isn't easy, even for students who don't have to adjust to a new language and culture.

When learning a new language and culture are added to the mix, the task can be downright daunting. But JMU is taking steps to ease that part of the burden on foreign students by partnering with Study Group, a company that specializes in helping them transition.

"Study Group helped me a lot," said Shuoda Wang at a recent ceremony celebrating the opening of the International Study Center at JMU, which is run by Study Group in Memorial Hall. Wang, an economics and finance major from China, went through the Study Group program in 2009-2010.

"Sometimes I got problems in life, I went to Study Group. Sometimes I need help on my paper, I went to Study Group. Study Group gave me a lot of study skills. I appreciate that so much," said Wang.

Like Wang, Sojin Kim, an engineering major from South Korea, expressed appreciation of the program. "I started my life in America with Study Group to improve my English skills and to prepare for my life at JMU," she said. "In the first year here, I have lots of trouble with study, friends, or even in life. Now I can use many school resources properly including library and writing center and I met many international students who undergo similar situation as me."

JMU President Linwood Rose said the relationship between Study Group and JMU is consistent with the university's mission to enhance diversity on campus.

Linda Cabe Halpern, dean of University Studies, said the ISC began in 2009 with a conversation with Nick Rhodes, Study Group managing director of higher education, North America. "Right away I was excited that this was a comprehensive program that emphasized academics, culture transition and language acquisition for international students," said Halpern.

Rhodes said all parties benefit from the ISC. Faculty and current students are introduced to new perspectives and ways of thinking and the university's reputation as a welcoming, diverse and academically rigorous university spreads around the world.

"The way the world is moving it is becoming imperative that students have an international perspective," said Rhodes.

The ISC offers the Foundation Year program to international students seeking undergraduate degrees and the Pre-Masters program for those heading to graduate school. Both programs offer intensive English language and academic preparation for a degree. Students who complete the program matriculate to be full-time JMU students.

Efforts to enroll more international students at JMU are paying off.

More than 320 JMU students this year have some sort of temporary visa. That's up from 264 last year.

"We've worked hard to recruit them," said Shaun Mooney, a senior assistant director in the Office of Admissions.

Delo Blough, director of international student and scholar services at JMU, thinks efforts to draw students from around the world are starting to draw dividends.

Part of the university's effort to lure more foreign students included hiring an international recruiter four years ago. The recruiter travels to international academic fairs to educate potential students about JMU.

Blough also attributes the recent spike in international student enrollment to the university's new partnership with Study Group, a multi-national company specializing in educating foreign students in host countries. Study Group runs the International Study Center in Memorial Hall, which provides transition courses, including English, to foreign students coming to JMU. Students in the program obtain general education credits equivalent to a typical first year at JMU while they adjust to the culture and the language. Last year, there were nine ISC students in two semesters. This fall, there are 32 students and 20 more are expected for the spring semester.

"It is common knowledge that it takes several years for recruitment efforts to pay off and it is my sense that this is beginning to happen with us," Blough said. "Although reports indicate that there have been steady increases in international student enrollment across the U.S. for the past number of years, the growth that JMU has seen is much higher than the average."

So why the push to enroll international students?

"International students bringing their global experiences to the classroom will give James Madison students a wider window to look out into the world," said Adam Copeland, director of the ISC. "It 's going to prepare them in a lot of ways for their interactions professionally. There are a lot more international people involved in American business now."

JMU had 220 international students from 70 countries in 2008 and 264 international students from 69 countries last year.

"Adjusting to an American style college classroom is a big thing for them," Copeland said, noting that the teaching styles are typically very different in student's home countries. "Getting them to be much more active participants, whether it's in discussion, answering questions, asking questions, is something that we work on to help prepare them."

Copeland added that international students face the same hardships that average first-year college students face: time management, roommate issues, adjusting to the food and schedule woes among them. But, depending where they are from, culture shock can also be difficult.

Despite the difficulties, the experience promises to be positive.

"This is their ‘study abroad' experience, except that it lasts four years," Blough said. "We live in an increasing global society. International students understand that with a U.S. degree from an excellent institution, along with the experience of being completely culturally fluent, their lives are vastly improved."

And, from an American standpoint, Copeland said, "If we are going to continue to be a leader, then we are going to have to have the best, and we are going to have to recruit the best" from around the world.

Oct. 5, 2010