By Chastity Dillard, The Daily Iowan
Kariuki Maina has a lot to learn about United States culture before he’ll feel comfortable.
And for that reason, the Kenyan said he has actively sought out University of Iowa programs, such as the International Programs, to help acclimate himself to Western life.
“[International Programs] help out with the immigration visa, the paperwork,” the first-year UI biomedical-science graduate student said. “They help acclimate us to the community at large. They help us understand the U.S. culture. They’ve been instrumental in making our stay comfortable.”
Roughly 20 people, including Maina, gathered to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the UI International Programs Tuesday evening.
This year, the program is also celebrating a new enrollment record, with 3,275 international students, compared with last year’s 2,825.
“The world has changed in 40 years, and our students reflect it,” said Scott King, the director of International Students and Scholars. “This is the first year that [international] undergraduates have outnumbered our [international] graduates.”
There are 1,734 undergraduates, 1,266 graduates, and 275 in professional programs.
With more international students on campus, King said, International Programs has expanded its acclimation programs, as well as general student advising and immigration-reporting requirements.
“We are always trying to diversify the population in nationality and majors to study,” he said.
The largest international student population — with 1,737 — hails from China, which is an increase over last fall’s 1,312. South Korea follows with 383 students, and there are 316 Indian students.
When Helen Jiang came to the UI two years ago from China, she joined the Friends of International Students and was paired with a Coralville family.
“I had the opportunity to know how Americans think,” Jiang said. “They helped me to adapt to American culture more quickly and make American friends.”
The program pairs international students with local American families in hopes to immerse students into the culture faster.
UI Dean of International Programs Downing Thomas said the university didn’t begin recruiting internationally until 2007.
“We were very low in relation to our peers in the Big Ten,” he said. “We wanted to make an effort to increase that recruitment, because international students bring global issues.”
The UI has seen a huge spike in international enrollment since 2007, with international undergraduates jumping from 1.9 percent of the total UI population to 8.2 percent this fall.
Thomas said the program continues to recruit internationally because it’s good for the institution and students.
UI Assistant Provost for Admissions Michael Barron said there is an educational benefit for the diversity of students coming to the UI.
Having a diverse international presence on campus mirrors the professional world, he noted.
“So having a rich mix from across the world and all over the country is certainly a goal,” he said.
Even though Maina is still getting used to life at the UI, he said, leaving behind friends and family was a tough decision.
“It’s difficult to get out of your box and face something you are totally not used to,” the 23-year-old said. “But at the same time, that’s how we grow, that’s how we challenge ourselves. Learn something here, learn something there. You move on. That’s life. That’s peace.”