University sees increase in international students

Katie Armstrong

The percentage of undergraduate international students has steadily increased over the past four years, according to an official report approved by Stephen Merritt, dean of Enrollment Management.

The majority of international students come from Asia and South America, although there remains much diversity, for there is not one foreign country predominately represented on the undergraduate level.

“There has been an increase in undergraduate international students within the past few years,” said Steve McWilliams, director of International Students and Human Services. “The University went from having a handful of international students to having a substantial number in each class.”

Enrollment of undergraduate international students has been relatively unaffected by the recent financial crisis in the United States.

Admissions and Student Life at Villanova cited increased financial aid for international students as a factor in this respect.

According to Michael Gaynor, director of University Admission, the University has been recruiting international students for roughly 25 years.

“We travel just as we do domestically, oftentimes, but not exclusively, on recruitment tours with other colleges and universities,” Gaynor said.

The admissions teams particularly stress relationships established in these overseas recruitments.

“The relationship and trust aspect is significant, because families are entrusting their children to Villanova,” said Candice Keith, senior associate director of Admission. “So, relationships are not just established with the guidance counselors abroad.”

Many international students are attracted to the University due in large measure to this emphasis on relationship-building during the prospective and admission process.

Suktika Mukhopadhyay, a junior from Switzerland, said that the personal relationships made with admissions team members was a major factor in her choice of Villanova.

“I had the chance to meet one of the University’s representatives, a priest, during a college tour in Switzerland,” Mukhopadhyay said. “My one fear of Villanova was that it is a religious school, and I didn’t know what to expect from that. The priest was such an amazing, charismatic man, and through him I learned that having a religious influence gave Villanova a sense of community and service to others.”

Mentoring clubs on campus help international students adjust to their new academic and social environment. International Students Outreach Society is an organization that reaches out to students to get them acclimated and involved in social activities.

The club grew out of more international students on the undergraduate level.

“After students have applied to Villanova and get in, our student organization gets in touch through e-mail, introduce ourselves and ask if the student has any questions about social life,” said Mukhopadhyay, president of the International Students Outreach Society. “It’s important to give a student opinion about what’s going on around Villanova instead of just faculty or staff opinion.”

Help is also available for international students on an academic level. Debra Hoover, an international student adviser, is head of the English Language Help Desk in the International Student Office.

“The English Language Help Desk provides a resource where international students can practice pronunciation, get help on academic papers or piece together presentations,” Hoover said.

For all the social and academic help available to international students at the University, practical issues, such as getting access to Social Security cards, getting jobs or figuring out what to do over major University breaks, still remain problems. McWilliams addressed the issues of international students gaining access to bank accounts, Social Security cards, drivers’ licenses and jobs.

“The International Student Office takes on a hands-on approach,” McWilliams said. “It’s difficult to gain access to these documents and jobs for international students. But we try to reduce the number of obstacles that are in the way of functioning.”

Acclimating to the new social and academic environment, while hardly easy, is mainly positive for international students.

“Fitting in here is much easier than I thought,” freshman Zheng Rong from China said. “The primary reason, I think, is because people here at Villanova are really, really nice.”

“Villanova has faculty who are really open,” said sophomore Alejandra Tarquino, from Colombia. “That was a big factor about making me feel better about here. And I feel really close to the girls in my dorm. The community feeling of the dorms helps a lot.”

Students interviewed expressed satisfaction with their education and experience at Villanova thus far.

“My education at Villanova is what I expected now that I’ve found the career I want,” Tarquino said. “I think my education in America offers a lot of opportunities that I would not have in my own country. A diploma from here opens a lot of windows, and an education from here is held in high esteem.”