University of Nebraska international student enrollment spikes in fall 2013

The Chinese Understanding American Club is an example of activities that support UNL's growing international student population.

The Chinese Understanding American Club is an example of activities that support UNL's growing international student population.

Story and photos by Brianna Foster, NewsNetNebraska.

The University of Nebraska is reaching new enrollment heights with students from around the globe.

According to a University of Nebraska news release from the media resource center, the university now has a record number of 3,638 international students enrolled. This is a 4.7 percent jump from 2012.

It also states that the most common countries of origin are China, India and South Korea.

Of the four campuses in the University of Nebraska, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is in the lead this fall with international student enrollment numbers. According to the University of Nebraska fall 2013 factbook, UNL currently has 2,126 international students. In the fall of 2012, UNL had 2,210 international students.


Some might argue that with a more diverse, expanding student population comes even more diverse student experiences at the University of Nebraska, and more specifically, at UNL.

Emma Zhao and Miao Yun Zhan are two best friends who happen to share similar perspectives at UNL.

Both are from Beijing, China and came to UNL for the finance program. Though they enjoy studying in Nebraska and their new independence, they said that the primary challenges are class work and the language.

“The most challenging is the language because it’s a different language. Actually, we studied English when I was in primary school – it’s very young,” Zhao said.

“But still, we don’t have an environment to speak English, so we didn’t practice a lot in China. So when I came here, English is strange for me.”

University officials echo their concerns.

Jessica Loke, UNL residential international student coordinator, regularly works with international students through events and services.

She said that she hears reoccurring questions, much like those voiced by Zhao and Zhan.

“The first that comes to mind that comes up often is how heavy the workload is compared to their institution back home,” she said.Pie Chart enrollment

“The second thing that’s really challenging is communicating with people because there’s a language barrier.”

As a UNL graduate and former international student from Malaysia, Loke said making friends has been a challenge for her because of the cultural differences. She referenced a Culture Contact article that compares relationships in different cultures.

“The American culture of making friends is like a peach – it’s easy to get to the core of a peach because it’s soft on the outside. They appear friendly, you talk to them for 10 minutes and not know a name and that’s OK. But it’s not as common in Asian culture because people tend to be more conservative,” she said.

“In Asian culture it’s like a coconut – it’s hard to get through to them and get to know them. Once you get through the hard shell, it’s easy to get to know them. On the other hand, here, you’re not really good friends even though it seems friendly.”

Mike Wismer, UNL New Student Enrollment orientation activities coordinator, also talked about common barriers.

“There’s several big themes that emerge. One is interaction with domestic students is, I don’t want to say a problem, but it’s lacking on our campus in a big way,” he said.

“Many of the international students don’t know how to bridge that gap.”


The “Chinese Understanding American Club” was created to help bridge that gap and answer questions.

K. Appelget, a Nebraska resident, leads the weekly discussion group, which is not connected to the university but includes UNL student members.

Appelget said he volunteers his time to lead the discussions because he wanted to help students understand the culture.

Jun Gao, a UNL post-doctoral student, said he attends every week.

“I learn more about the United States and even more about human rights, politics in different countries and it makes me think very deeply about many things and change many of my old opinions to better ones,” he said.

Aside from the challenges of exploring a new environment and culture, students also talked about other aspects.

Zhan said she appreciates the safety, along with the education that she is getting at UNL.

CUA club 2
Jun Gao, A UNL post-doctoral student, said he attends the meetings to learn about the U.S.

Maegan Stevens-Liska, UNL International Projects Manager at International Engagement (IE), said many things contribute to students’ educational experiences.

“One of the fundamental roles of higher education in the U.S. is to expose students to a range of experiences and ideas and one of the best ways to do that without traveling abroad and traveling widely is to meet others in the classroom in the same academic experience that you are in yourself.,” she said.

“Beyond enrollment numbers, one of the main reasons we’re always excited is the range of experience and ideas they [international students] bring to campus.”

Stevens-Liska works on international agreements and engagement efforts, among other things, in the IE office, which connects people from different backgrounds through programs, support and more.

International student enrollment numbers

According to the University of Nebraska news release, “In addition to significantly increasing international enrollment, the university’s strategy for global engagement also includes increasing the number of students who study abroad, expanding opportunities for faculty members to collaborate with peers around the world, and creating more international partnerships focused on key areas like water and food security, early childhood education, public health and others important both to Nebraska and the world.”

UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman recently announced a timeline extension to reach UNL’s total enrollment goal of 30,000 students.

The University of Nebraska news release states a goal to double international student enrollment by that year, which is 2020.

That would put international student enrollment at 7,276.

The release says that its continued success in lifting those numbers is based on its partnerships with other countries, such as the Scientific Mobility Program, “which is sending 100,000 of Brazil’s best and brightest students to study at the world’s leading universities.”

Its success is also monetary.

It references the amount of generated revenue, at “more than $110 million to Nebraska’s economy in 2012-13.”

Specialized information on UNL international student resources is listed on the International Engagement website.

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