By Nina Earnest, The Daily Iowan
The music started, and the rumba lesson began.
Dancing is a step out of the ordinary for the participants of the Global Buddies program, designed to match an American student with a new international exchange student to learn about each other’s culture. And Wednesday, the group tried dancing at the International Commons in the University Capitol Centre, said John Ashby, a graduate student in International Programs.
“We are a community,” said Marta Vega Marín, a Spanish exchange student. “We are just like friends in America and all over the world who like to do stuff together.”
International students enrolled this fall represent 105 countries and territories, according to information gathered by the International Student & Scholar Services.
Asian countries represent 79.8 percent of the international-student population. The majority are from the China — 1,312 students.
Two Chinese students, Ava Cheng and Julia Wang, studied among dozens on the second floor of the Main Library and were shocked to hear so many students from their country attended the UI.
“I thought there were like 800,” Wang said, and laughed.
The freshman and sophomore pre-business majors met at the President’s Block Party through a mutual friend.
“I knew one person, and they introduced me to another,” Cheng said. “It just keeps growing to more and more Chinese.”
That is not to say they don’t have American friends. But sometimes it’s easier, Wang said, to meet other Chinese students because of shared language and culture.
Cheng knew there would be a lot of Chinese students at the UI — but their presence did not influence her university decision.
“Wherever you go, there are a lot of Chinese,” she said.
“We are a community. We are just like friends in America and all over the world who like to do stuff together.”
But Downing Thomas, the dean of International Programs, said the large number of Chinese students is not due to increased recruitment efforts in China. It is more because of China’s presence in global demographics.
“There’s a huge population of college-bound students, and they don’t have opportunities in China before they come abroad,” he said.
Scott King, the director of the International Student & Scholar Services, said the university actively recruits in places “where it will make a difference.” Students in Europe, he said, have more opportunities to study abroad than students in other parts of the world because of programs in place through the European Union.
European students make up 8.4 percent of the UI international student population, though they are not active recipients of the university recruiting.
Hagen Klett, a German participant in Global Buddies, said it wasn’t important to him that he meet more Europeans on campus through the program.
“It’s a great opportunity to get to know Americans,” the 22-year-old said. “It’s just nice to meet new people.”
And American student interest is rising — Ashby said Global Buddies had nearly 100 American students to pair with approximately 50 exchange students.
UI spokesman Tom Moore said the more diverse atmosphere on campus will prepare students for an “increasingly global marketplace.”
“More exposure to other cultures can only benefit [UI students] in the long run in the work place of the future,” he said.