Critical thinking skills. Adaptability. Collaboration. Civic engagement. Global awareness. These are just a few of the 21st-century skills that universities work to inculcate in their students. At Longwood, the ever-important work of developing citizen leaders has come to involve — and, in fact, to necessitate — the recruitment of international students.
While international students have studied at Longwood for many years, the initiative to actively recruit them began in 2011, when Longwood implemented its first strategic plan to recruit students from other countries. In the six years since then, the total number of international degree-seeking undergraduate students at Longwood has quadrupled. Today, more than 60 international students are working toward their degrees at the university.
What do they seek at Longwood — and how do other students at Longwood benefit from their presence?
International students’ backgrounds are as varied as the individuals that they are and the cultures, families and schools from which they come. Many international students, like Minh Nguyen ’20 from Vietnam, who plans to start his own business after he graduates, are attracted to Longwood because of our AACSB- accredited College of Business and Economics and Cormier Honors College.
Other students, like Alejandra Gonzalez ’20, an art major who started her own jewelry design business as the economy was crashing in Venezuela, seek English language support through Longwood’s ESL Bridge Program while earning an undergraduate degree. For Alejandra, our crafts concentration in the art program was a huge draw.
Longwood’s NCAA Division I sports teams also attract highly qualified international student-athletes. Caius Covrig ’20, from Romania, dreams of becoming a professional basketball player and chose Longwood specifically so he could play for Coach Jayson Gee, who he says has a “stellar reputation in the sport.”
Quality, flexibility and opportunity are among the top reasons that the number of international students enrolled in the U.S. nearly doubled in the decade from 2005-06 to 2015-16, according to the Institute of International Education’s 2016 Open Doors Report. But these hallmarks of the U.S. education system are not all that they seek.
What type of job will I get when I graduate? Do you offer internship opportunities? Can I get a scholarship? Is it safe there? Where will I live? Are there any other [insert nationality of international student] students at your university?
These are the types of questions that fill the room at international recruitment fairs and high-school visits, where anywhere from a small handful to more than 5,000 interested students, parents, teachers and counselors anxiously come to learn more about the Land of Opportunity.
Responding to this barrage of questions and helping international students navigate the American higher education system and identify the right fit for them becomes key for retention. Naturally, international students come to campus needing a different kind of support than domestic students, who are, in large part, already familiar with the college search and overall American college experience.
In this regard, Longwood’s Office of International Affairs also has made tremendous strides since 2011, bringing on board additional staff and developing the Global Leaders Program, which provides mentors for international students and raises cultural awareness.
The benefits of having international students at Longwood are just as important for domestic students, though perhaps less obvious.
By mentoring new international students, helping them learn their way around Longwood, Farmville and life in the U.S., our American students have the opportunity to gain exposure to other parts of the world right here in Farmville.
Faculty tell us that the international students in their classes help their American students consider, in an organic way, new perspectives on everything from history, romantic relationships and government structures to religion, food and family.
International students also can inspire domestic students to step outside their own comfort zones and study abroad. For example, as a result of her active involvement in the Global Leaders Program, Kiana Graves ’17, from Richmond, and Elaina Cesares ’16 had life-changing study abroad experiences and plan to join the Peace Corps.
Longwood’s international recruitment efforts continue to bring diversity, fresh perspectives and an opportunity to learn about the world to campus. And we have plans to engage Longwood alumni living overseas and international alumni living in the U.S. in our efforts. It’s a win for everyone involved.
About the Author
Molly McSweeneyAssistant director of international admissions in the Office of International Affairs