Foreign students still enrolling

Elizabeth Nieto

There are countless reasons why people travel to the United States, whether it is America’s booming economy, civilian freedoms or stable government. Yet since 9/11, people in other countries have been more reluctant, and more restricted when crossing the border.

This decline not only applies to travelers and immigrants, but also students. According to a Nov. 10 article in the New York Times, surveys show that American universities have suffered a decline in the enrollment of foreign students.

At Villanova, however, the number of international students has not suffered the significant declines noted at other universities within the states. This year, two to three percent of undergraduate students and 18 percent of graduate students are international, according to the Office of Admissions.

“Because our numbers are so small to begin with, we haven’t seen a drastic change,” Candice Keith, associate director of international admission, said.

This year alone, the University is educating international students from over 30 different countries, who come to Villanova mainly as liberal arts and commerce and finance students, though not exclusively.

According to Keith, the University aims to bring international students to campus in order to “enhance the classroom and residence life experience,” she said. “[Their] different educational, cultural, political and religious perspectives … enhance the learning environment.”

Stephen McWilliams, advisor for International Students, said the University has not seen a drastic decline since Sept. 11, 2001, in that “our number of international students, particularly graduate students, has been relatively stable,” he said.

But this does not mean the number will remain stable in the future. To prevent a decline, the Office of Admissions established an International Student Advisory Group in 2001, which sends representatives to various countries, attempting to recruit international students to the University. The group’s recruitment process includes traveling, maintaining a website and a newsletter and ultimately bringing students to campus.

“We hope to have the percentage of international students increase seven to 10 percent in the next few years, but we also realize the students need to be competitive and do well in the classroom,” he said.

One of the biggest concerns of the Admissions Office, and probably one of the biggest deterrents for international students, has been the lack of financial aid offered to international students.

“People coming from abroad are no different than people here, in that money is a consideration,” McWilliams said.

However, for the first time the Admissions Office has been able to secure enough funding to offer financial aid to international students. This may increase the percentage of international students at Villanova compared to that of Notre Dame or Boston College.

“Places that have large student populations may have more like 12 to 17 percent,” Keith said, “which might be due to the amount of financial aid that they offer.”

Junior Habib Estephan was born and raised in Lebanon until he came to the U.S. to study at Villanova. His father, a Villanova graduate, influenced Estephan’s decision to study here.

“After being here for two years, [the United States] actually feels more like a home,” Estephan said. “After being home during the summer for six weeks, I was ready to come back here. I have two homes now.”

Students like Estephan, who live with American family members in the area, usually adapt very quickly, though sometimes face unfounded criticism.

“Racism is gone,” Estephan said, “but deep inside, each person still has it, believe it or not. If you think about it, in every racist joke, there’s an essence of truth. They’re applying stereotypes on the wrong people … My opinion is that they’re getting these ideas from the media.”

Lebanese junior Amal Kabalan expressed similar thoughts about the media’s portrayal of the Middle East. “The media focuses on the bad things in the Middle East,” Kabalan said. “We have many activities there and nice places … that the media could make use of, but the focus only on the bad parts … is the reason for people to think like that.”

According to Kabalan, the Middle East oftentimes gets a bad reputation due to a small area where there are publicized problems.

“[It’s] like a small virus, and we want to remove this virus because the Middle East isn’t like that,” she said.

Junior Michael Nataro moved to England when he was 16 years old and was accepted at Villanova after living in England for three years.

“I love the fact that Villanova is a Catholic conservative institution that is kind of modeled after the old classical institutions of Europe,” he said. “Those kind of places, to me, are really what learning is all about.”