It was a jubilant day when Tirelo Morake, of Botswana, was accepted at St. Ambrose University three years ago, and received a hefty scholarship to play soccer for the Davenport school. |
However, after arriving, the recruited soccer player felt homesick and alienated and wondered how he'd make it through the first semester.
"I pretty much had my head down the whole time," Mr. Morake, 22, said. "Everyone I knew was a 14-hour flight away."
Mr. Morake is one of thousands of international students arriving in the U.S. in recent years thanks, in part, to aggressive recruitment by U.S. admissions offices and a rising affluent middle class in parts of the world.
According to a 2011 study by the Institute of International Education, the number of foreign students in the U.S. increased 32 percent in the past decade to nearly 723, 277 last year. About half come from China, India and South Korea.
Ly Pham, 22, who graduated from Augustana College in May, said she was the only Vietnamese student on campus when she arrived in 2008.
Now, her home country ranks eighth in the world for sending students abroad, according to the IIE study. Ms. Pham estimated that out of her high school graduating class of 30, a third went overseas for college.
"The United States has the reputation, and deservedly so, of being the best option for education in the world," Dane Rowley, Augustana dean of admissions, said.
However, it's an "American Dream," that can come at a steep price.
The IIE study estimated that international students contribute nearly $21 billion annually to U.S. coffers. Students from other countries often face nonresidential tuition rates and a host of international fees, including anything from orientation programs to on-campus costs.
Kyungeun Lee, 21, a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from South Korea, estimated she pays $40,000 to $43,000 a year for tuition and living expenses, compared to the $29,000 to $33,000 in-state students pay.
In addition to proving English proficiency, international students - who are not eligible for U.S. loans or grants - also must provide proof of finances. That means that most who are accepted come from families who can pay out-of-pocket costs.
"There is certainly an economic benefit to having international students studying here," said Julie Misa, director of international student and scholar services at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In addition to tuition, she said international students spend money on housing, shopping and travel.
The University of Iowa has an annual budget of $150,000 for recruiting initiatives, such as sending admissions counselors abroad once or twice a year. That, and growing interest from areas such as China and the Pacific Rim, have led to a dramatic increase in international undergraduate students, said Michael Barron, the school's assistant provost for enrollment.
Administrators hope a greater international presence on campus will "enrich the education" of local students who might otherwise not be exposed to new cultures, Mr. Barron said. "They're going to work and live in a global economy even if they never leave the United States."
Darren Garrett, executive director of marketing for Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, said indirect recruiting often occurs during the school's annual clinic abroad program, when international patients decide to attend Palmer and become word-of-mouth recruiters for other prospective students.
Academic advisers and admissions officers said a large influx of students also can create challenges.
For some of those students used to more rigid and memorization-based learning, discussion and opinion-style classrooms are an adjustment, as is struggling to understand the nuances of the English language and American culture.
Some international students also deal with leaving behind unstable homelands fraught with war or political strife, officials said.
"All these kinds of worries that we don't think about," said Mr. Rowley, whose office helps counsel international students when needed. "But coming from a little bit more authoritarian country, students have these fears while traveling abroad."
Despite his initial sense of loneliness, Mr. Morake said teammates and St. Ambrose soccer coach Jon Mannall - who once was an international student himself when he came from London to attend college at St. Ambrose - helped him adjust.
Now a senior, Mr. Morake is "torn between two places," unsure whether he will return home or apply for further schooling or work in the U.S.
"It's really, really tough to get a job in the U.S. market right now," said Ms. Lee, a journalism student who has done several internships and worked hard for four years on the college newspaper to make herself more marketable.
"I wanted to show people that international students can also do it," she said.
"I want to work in big cities – Boston, New York, LA," said Ms. Lee, who hasn't seen her family for two years.
"And then one day, I will look back and say, 'I tried so hard and I achieved this much.'"