With Lewis-Clark State College’s international student enrollment up 53 percent this fall, the students from 32 countries have faced some interesting decisions during the semester.
For example, the first dilemma facing the 12 international exchange students taking part in the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program at LC State came on the second weekend of classes. Mainly, where to travel for Labor Day Weekend? One group chose Disneyland. Another group selected Yellowstone National Park. Seattle was another possible destination.
The international students want to make sure they take advantage of all opportunities available to them at LC State, which regularly attracts students from around the world.
“The increase in international enrollment is very encouraging as it may mark a return to more normal international enrollment patterns,” LC State president Cynthia Pemberton said.
The J-1 Exchange Program students attending LC State this fall are part of the increase in international enrollment. The 12 students are upperclassmen who are receiving practical training in their academic field of study that is not available to them in their home country. They will attend LC State for a year before returning to their homelands.
The J-1 Exchange Program’s goal is to increase mutual understanding between people from the U.S. and other countries through educational exchanges, thereby strengthening ties between the nations. The students must apply and be accepted for a J-1 visa in order to take part in the program. The students then come to the U.S. to study full-time, explore, and be an ambassador for their county to help educate other students and the community about their home country and culture.
Rebecca Snodgrass, coordinator for the LC State International Programs Office, said the 12 students applied to be located in a small and safe area that had a residential campus. LC State also had to apply to be a part of the program. Once the applications are vetted, a screening process matches students with a higher education institution in the United States.
The 12 international students at LC State are from Tunisia on the north African coast, Russia and Pakistan. Their majors range from engineering to business and they spent the first couple of weeks adjusting to their new surroundings at LC State. A couple of the students had met previously before coming to LC State, but nearly all are strangers and going through the experience together.
“For me, I wanted to experience as much as I could,” said Mohamed Aziz Boubaker, the lone male among the 12. “I’m away from my family and friends so I want to experience everything I can.”
The three students from Tunisia are participating in the Thomas Jefferson Scholarship Program’s Tunisia Undergraduate Scholarship Program. The program’s goal is to help build a workforce of a diverse group of youth leaders from across Tunisia. The program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, gets the students involved with U.S. businesses and organizations to help them create sustainable links between Tunisian and American communities.
The students, who are proficient in English, work on their soft skills and education while at LC State and also are required to participate in a minimum of 20 hours of community service as well as complete a part-time internship.
Ilef Mghirbi and Arij Zitouni, the other two students from Tunisia, said LC State has a smaller campus than what they are used to, but it’s been a very welcoming campus.
“I didn’t expect the faculty to be so friendly and helpful,” Mghirbi said. “They want to help you and are easy to talk to. That’s something I’m not used to.”
That sentiment is echoed throughout the 12 students. The willingness of the LC State faculty to help them, especially if they don’t understand something or have questions, has been one of the pleasant surprises for them.
The six students from Russia – Sventlana Arkhipova, Diana Erenkova, Ekaterina Ivanova, Galia Nuretdinova, Miloslava Timofeeva, and Dianara Utemisheva – agreed the class structure at LC State is different than what they are used to. For example, the class syllabus, which outlines what the semester will look like, isn’t something they receive at their universities. One student pointed out her math class isn’t necessarily easier, “it’s just different.” When asked how, she responded “I don’t know. Just really different.”
The Russian students are participating in the Year of Exchange in American for Russians (YEAR) program. It’s an opportunity for highly successful Russian students to complete a one-year non-degree study program in the U.S. The program is fully funded by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and covers visa expenses, airfare, tuition, room, board and health insurance. It also gives them a monthly stipend.
The Russian students are math, psychology, communication arts and secondary education majors. They have a variety of interests they are pursuing at LC State, including theater. They said they are enjoying the experience, especially with the smaller class sizes that allow them to get to know their professors and fellow classmates.
A couple of the students attend St. Petersburg University, which is the oldest (founded in 1724) and one of the largest universities (nearly 33,000 students) in Russia. They said it’s unusual to be able to approach a professor with a problem at St. Petersburg, but find that easy to do at LC State.
The three female students from Pakistan – Jami Mida, Marium Hote Malhar, and Farkhanda Mehtab – are taking part in the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (GUEP). Like the Tunisia program, the GUEP is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Since its inception since 2010, more than 2,000 students from Pakistan have participated in the program.
“I’ve always wanted to come to the U.S. to learn and explore so I’m excited to be here,” Mahlar said. “It is very different here but I really feel at home.”
There are approximately 175 private and public universities in Pakistan, some of which are military or vocational. The largest is the University of Karachi, which is on 1,200 acres and has 24,000 students.
Snodgrass serves as the principal designated school official, which LC State is required to have as a part of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. She also teaches a Student Development 192 course called “Special Topics in Student Development” for the 12 students. It allows the students to plan their year and discuss their how they are sharing their culture and how they will share their U.S. learning experiences once they return to their home countries.
For more information on LC State’s International Programs, visit its website.