=By Rishabh R. Jain, Daily Iowan
Xidong "Watson" Feng was used to being a good student until he graduated from high school and enrolled in a college in his hometown, Beijing. Troubled by excessive alcohol use among his peers, and having ambitions for a better career, he boarded the long flight to the United States to pursue his higher education at the University of Iowa.
The UI sophomore was a part of the influx of international students who have enrolled at the UI in the past four years. The international-student population at UI has increased by roughly 60 percent since 2007. The international-student population at the UI stood at 10.5 percent in the fall of 2011.
The university saw its largest number of international students that semester with 3,442. The UI is managing the increase by escalating its efforts and making changes, including adding a new immigration software, having international recruitment handled directly by the Admissions Office, and adding some new staff members.
"We have started many initiatives that many people aren't aware of," said Leanne Seedorff, the senior associate director of International Students and Scholars. "… Whose sole purpose is to look at what within the university's infrastructure needs to be bolstered to not only help the international students who come in but also the faculty, teaching assistants, and staff who are here."
She said UI officials didn't expect or plan the increase in the number of international students over the last few years. She attributed it to the upsurge in the number of international students nationwide. In fact, this appears to be a global phenomenon. The world has 75 percent more international students today than it did a decade ago, according to a report published by U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization in 2011.
UI President Sally Mason's June trip to Asia — where around 90 percent of UI's international students come from — signifies the escalation in the university's recruiting efforts. Having traditionally been a part of International Students and Scholars, international-student recruitment is now handled by the Admissions Office.
Seedorff said International Students and Scholars has hired an additional adviser who started working this week. The department, in collaboration with other university offices, is also pondering establishing programs that can be offered to domestic students to prepare them better for international students on campus.
Officials launched an immigration software last month that allows international students to access immigration-related documents online via iHawk — an online service specifically for foreign students. Officials were unable to provide a cost for the software Monday evening. Though UI officials continue to make efforts in creating a more global campus, some students feel true integration will come from primarily the students' intent.
Integrating and adapting to American culture was one of the first things on the mind of UI senior Jiangbo "Brayden" Zhao when he came to Iowa. He said while the university is amplifying its efforts to increase interaction between domestic and international populations, true social integration will only come from the students. "We have to agree that there is a slight segregation problem on campus right now," he said. "That is because students, both international and domestic, don't want to come out of their comfort zones. They don't want to speak in second languages. They want to hang out with people who come from the same areas that they come from."
Though he sees segregation as a current problem, he believes integration is possible with some effort. "I have many American friends. Sometimes I feel I have been really Americanized," he said and laughed. "Students need to be proud of their identities and blend in by accepting the differences."
Some however, said they've found the language barrier to be a challenge when interacting with others. UI senior and finance major Wei Wang said it was impossible to even order coffee when she first came here as a transfer student. "When I came here, I only made Chinese friends because it was very difficult to speak in English," she said. "After about a year, I realized the native people are really nice and thought I had to change and stop being shy."