More international students are going to college in the U.S. than ever before, and many of them are traveling from the other side of the globe to come to the corridor.
The University of Iowa offers opportunity for native Iowans, but U of I officials are tapping into a growing Chinese market full of students eager to student in the U.S.. 5 years ago the University of Iowa welcomed around 400 new international undergrads; this fall that number jumped to well over 2,000.
More than half of the international students at the U of I are from China, students like FeiHong He, who wants to take what here learns in Iowa and start his own business back home. "You need to be able to communicate with people from different places, and English is a common language that we use in business," FeiHong said.
Weichen Jin and Shiyuan Zhang are from opposite sides of China, but met and became friends on the opposite side of the world. “I wanted to go abroad to see what the world looks like. I think it’s really a new experience for me,” Shiyuan said.
Both Shiyuan and Weichen hope to study Actuarial Sciences at the U of I, and say they choose Iowa because of affordability and a relaxed campus atmosphere. "I think Iowa City is a quiet little city, which is really good for study," Weichen said.
That's one of the key selling points U of I recruiters use to pitch Iowa to Chinese parents. Their message is: this is a major institution with a small town feel. “They want to know that their son or daughter is going to a safe environment; one where they know they can focus on their studies,” Dean of International Programs Downing Thomas said.
It's Thomas' job to sell the Hawkeye brand abroad. He's made pitches all over the world, meeting with alumni and potential recruits, with the goal of strengthening relationships that pay off. International students and their families attending the U of I pump more than $100 million into the Iowa economy.
“As an educational institution we’re focused as much or more on the benefit of long-term connections between Iowa and the world,” Thomas said. But Thomas says its about more than research partners and loyal alumni overseas. He says a diverse student body can benefit every student.
“They gain some knowledge of other countries and other people by being in an environment that stresses that,” Thomas said.
Whether it's while studying at the library, at lectures at the School of Engineering, or through a group project at the School of Business, Thomas says students forge ties with Chinese students that will benefit them in their future careers.
FeiHong says becoming fluent in English will help him professionally when he returns to China. "You need to learn to bargain with them to get the maximum benefit, so you need to speak English with them," FeiHong said.
By connecting with friends in the Far East, the University of Iowa hopes to build a bridge between Iowa and China. A partnership Thomas says will benefit both in the future.“They have an experience of America and of Iowa, and they learn from that,” Thomas said.
International students in Iowa's major university is estimated to generate an economic impact of more than $300 million each year.