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UI sees spike in foreign students

BY ZHANRAN ZHAO | AUGUST 20, 2009 7:05 AM

Yan Li found himself munching a sandwich among a group of largely undergraduate international students this week. A UI graduate student in actuarial science, he wasn’t technically supposed to be there.

A friend had told him about the free lunch, sponsored by US Bank, 204 E. Washington St.

The event is one example of how UI officials are trying to help a record number of international students adjust to their move to the United States. And the tip from his Chinese friend shows how those students are smoothing out the transition.

For the 2009-10 academic year, the university has admitted more than 650 new international students from 57 countries, up from 619 last year. This year’s new students include 400 undergraduates and between 250 and 300 graduate students.

UI officials took measures to prepare for an influx of international students. They changed their orientation schedule and recruited more student volunteers to give tours and answer questions about the university, for example.



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The orientation program includes free sponsored lunches and information sessions on topics from Iowa weather to tuition fees and social events. In addition, volunteers lead small group discussions about life at the UI.

“Things are going amazingly smoothly,” said Scott King, the director of the Office of International Students and Scholars. “More smoothly than they have in the past.”

Despite advising sessions and a slew of information packets, however, the students are left mostly on their own to find apartments, set up bank accounts, and complete their registration. They said they often relied on a friend or a roommate from the same country for help.

The university can only do so much to accommodate the influx, officials said. The logistical challenge can overreach even a reorganized orientation program.

“Of course there are students who are confused,” King said. “Even if you come from Des Moines, you’ll still have questions, too.”

The office lets students know their options, he said, but they are responsible for exploring them.

That may be enough for students from other states, but international students face unique challenges. For example, they sometimes don’t have a good grasp of how much basic services cost in the United States, Li said.

Even the cost of a taxi ride from the Eastern Iowa Airport can be a mystery. Fortunately for Li, a Chinese church in Iowa City sent someone to pick him up at the airport. When he arrived, his roommate joined him on the apartment hunt — without help from the university.

“I had to find the house myself,” he said.

Finishing his sandwich, Li said he is now sleeping on an air mattress he bought for $60. His roommate helped him find it.


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