More International Students at UConn
Published: Thursday, September 5, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 5, 2013 01:09
Ayesha Ramnath’s first venture to the United States came when she attended a Global Young Leaders Conference in New York City. For Ramnath, a native of Singapore, this foreign exposure was love at first sight. “I fell in love with America,” she said. “The people, the diversity, the freedom to express yourself.” From that moment, Ramnath decided she would return back to the U.S. for college.
Ramnath isn’t alone. The number of international students at UConn is on the rise, increasing 1% annually since 2010. The 2013 percentage of international graduate students at UConn is at an all-time high of 18%, while the undergraduate rate of 3% has also increased.
Many students from foreign countries value the quality of an American college degree and attend UConn to get a leg up in today’s competitive job market. Chong Chu, a PhD student from China studying Biomedics, said that employers give preference to applicants who have a degree from a U.S. institution versus a Chinese one. “China has less data, research, and faculty for biomedics,” Chu said.
International students also note the different academic environments that exist between their home countries and UConn. “The education system here is more liberal and has more opportunities and flexibility,” Ramnath said. This flexibility allows for students to explore their interests throughout their educational experience so that they are more likely to graduate with a major they want to pursue as a career.
“In China, you have to decide your major your freshman year, and you can’t change. In the U.S., you can wait to decide or easily change your major,” said Qing Peng, a 1st-semester student interested in biology. Peng attended high school in Kent, Conn., but originally hails from China.
Foreign academic climates have a heightened sense of competitiveness, often to the point of being cut-throat, that American universities lack. “In China when we study, there is so much pressure,” said Peng. “There is no free time to do what we want. Here it’s play hard, study hard.”
This play hard, study hard mentality that pervades UConn and similar American universities fosters independent lifestyles in which students learn to make their own decisions. For Jiawei Cai, a fifth semester Economics major also of China, such freedoms have allowed him to enhance his college experience through social activities and student organizations such as the skydiving club and sports.
“I make decisions for myself. College in the U.S. is about independence, creativity, and lots of clubs. In China, there are lots of exams and memorizing, which leaves little time for social activities,” he said.
However, UConn’s international students do face their share of obstacles, most notably the language barrier. Topics that they could easily grapple in their native tongues become confusing when unfamiliar English words, such as vocabulary specific to the course subject, are central to class discussions and lectures. “Classes like business law and history are hard to understand because there are specific words and background knowledge that I don’t know,” said Jiaqi Zhou, a fifth-semester accounting major from China.
Whether it’s a love for American culture or simply a desire for quality education, international students feel just as much like UConn Huskies as Connecticut natives. “I went to all the basketball games last year to support my team,” said Chu.
And for many of these students, a new sense of home was exactly what they had hoped for. Added Ramnath, “Singapore was my cocoon, but now I’m ready to fly.”