UNL aims for 6,000 int’l students by 2020; Many unique stories like Zhou’s surface in face of expansion

Story and multimedia by Seth Olson, NewsNetNebraska

Editor’s note: This year, NewsNetNebraska reporters are looking at diversity issues at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and across Nebraska in a series of multimedia reports designed to promote greater awareness and understanding. The following report is one of our diversity stories. 

Joey Zhou was nearly 8,000 miles from his family when he found the University of Nebraska-Lincoln—his home away from home.

Now, the sophomore actuarial science major from China is one of 2,524 international students currently at UNL, and he couldn’t be happier with where he wound up.

“I didn’t know how my life would turn out when I came here,” Zhou said. “But along the way, I have met so many nice people who all made me realize how welcome I am here.”

The video below details Zhou’s transition coming to UNL as well as the university’s future enrollment goals for international students.

Growing, Growing, Growing

As UNL hopes to reach a student population of 30,000 students by 2020, the university knows its enrollment of international students must also increase to hit the benchmark. UNL hopes it is home to 6,000 international students by 2020.

In terms of reaching enrollment expectations, the university has put in place a predictive enrollment model for determining where the students will come from—both domestic and international—to meet the recruitment goals. It is broken down by graduate and undergraduate enrollment and then further by separate colleges. Each college knows how many additional students they will need to recruit in order to meet the enrollment goals. Then, the colleges will be able to determine which programs/majors are most suited for expansion to help reach the 30,000 mark.

Amy Goodburn, the Associate Vice Chancellor at UNL said although the university wants to reach this goal in order to become competitive nationally with its peers by having a larger student base and a higher number of faculty in research intensive areas, another main focus for UNL is a global education.

“We think it’s important for our students to have a global education,” Goodburn said. “In order to do that, we need to have students with global experiences. This is not only for our students studying abroad, but also for international students to be here to be in our classrooms and be involved with the lives of our domestic students.”

Academics & Zhou’s Journey to UNL

Zhou, originally from Ningbo, near Shanghai, in the Zhejiang province of China, arrived in America in 2012 as a foreign exchange student. He lived in Chicago, Illinois with the Quirks, his host family, during his junior and senior year of high school before deciding to attend college at UNL.

“It was a culture shock because everything was new to me,” Zhou said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

Zhou is one of 1,123 international students from China. Take a look at the world map to see where the rest of UNL international students come from globally.

Zhou, like many international students, was pushed by his parents to pursue an education in the United States. Cost for international students at UNL, with tuition and fees along with room and board, total over $33,000. International students pay an additional $250 fee for academic services specifically catered to them.

Despite international education being much more expensive compared to domestic students, Zhou and other international students realize the importance of a U.S. education for future employers.

Although Zhou was rejected by his first choices of New York University and UCLA, two schools with acceptance rates lower than 35 percent, Zhou was welcomed at UNL, home to one of the nation’s top actuarial science programs.

“I had appointment with a couple professors from the actuarial sciences department, and I really felt it was something special because none of the other schools I looked at offered a department visit,” Zhou said. “I really felt a connection with the actuarial science program here. That visit really changed my decision on where to go to college.”

According to the Society of Actuaries, UNL is one of 16 centers of actuarial excellence in the U.S. Goodburn said nationally recognized academic programs which UNL has a strong suit in is a key contributor to the increasing number of international students.

“Actuarial science is nationally ranked, and that is very attractive to our international students,” Goodburn said. “I think the quality of our academic programs is one of our biggest draws.”

So even though Zhou didn’t end up at New York University or UCLA, he didn’t end up with a bad hand landing at one of the nation’s top programs for his field. In fact, the rejections have only made him a better student.

“I love the program here,” Zhou said. “The rejections made me realize I wasn’t good enough for the other schools, but now having a chip on my shoulder, it motivates me to study harder every day.”

Now, by building connections at UNL, Zhou is working towards his goal of getting a job in actuarial science in the U.S. after college.

The connections Zhou and other international students build throughout their college education allows them to feel like they belong, despite being so far away from home.

“Another reason international students come here is because they feel safe on the campus,” Goodburn said. “It’s not a big city so they can easily navigate the town and the campus. They also recognize people are nice here and supportive of their transition.”

American students reach out to Zhou

One student in particular reached out to Zhou during his freshman year, a time of significant change and adaptation for the young international student. Paul Raymond, a Nebraska native, was a senior graphic design major who had his own group of friends. But instead of being content with his domestic friends, Raymond and his friends reached out to Zhou and began to hang out with the international student.

“Coming to a new school, I didn’t know anyone,” Zhou said. “I was kind of scared, but through a small group Bible study and other Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) events, I met Paul and other Americans.”

Zhou quickly became best friends with Raymond, both being basketball fanatics. Then, Zhou joined an intramural basketball team with Raymond and other American friends. Through the experience, Zhou achieved a lifelong dream.

“During high school, I was not good enough to make the team so playing organized basketball has always been a dream of mine,” Zhou said. “The first game was brutal—we lost by 20 points, but then as a team, we played for each other and got better and better game by game and started to win. I was blessed to be on the team with other Americans.”

While many international students might stay within their own friend groups, Zhou encourages other international students to not be afraid to make new American friends.

“It’s easy to play with other international students because we have more in common and it might seem easier to get along,” Zhou said. “But being on the team playing with other Americans really made me feel I was a part of that brotherhood.”

Now, Raymond has graduated, but Zhou still hangs out with his other American friends on the team. Still, losing a best friend who welcomed him with open arms has not been an easy transition for Zhou.

“I was really blessed to have a friend like Paul,” Zhou said. “This year it is tough not being on the same campus as Paul and not hanging out. I miss spending time with him, and I was lucky enough to have him in my first year of college. I really appreciate him and what he’s done for me.”

University reaches out, deters barriers

Raymond and his friends did a lot for Zhou, but the university also reaches out to Zhou and the other international students to make them feel more welcome while also easing the transition.

Academically, some international students have a difficult time initially in American style classrooms because they are run very differently, Goodburn said. There is more critical thinking, discussion, participation and teamwork.

Language is another barrier and can create challenges with writing and speaking, but UNL has academic success coaches and First Year Experience & Transition Programs to make the transition much smoother for international students.

One of the academic success coaches, Chandra Schwab, specifically offers academic workshops for international students on how to succeed in the large classroom and how to succeed in the American classroom. Schwab also speaks Mandarin which allows her to work closely with the international students from China.

“There is a whole range of opportunities and services for international students,” Goodburn said.

As UNL continues to become more diverse, Goodburn said it is important the university develops the diversity.

“They make us more diverse, but we have to utilize that diversity,” Goodburn said. “It’s not enough to just have the international students here.”

One of the opportunities is by engaging international students with domestic students in ways in which learning is enriched on both sides. The other is teaching all UNL students—both international and domestic—what it means to be a global citizen.

“We also want to enrich our students’ understanding of what it means to be a global citizen, of how different cultures and societies have different perspectives and identities,” Goodburn said. “Ultimately, we want to see all of our students succeed in the global economy.”

As Zhou is one of many international students at UNL determined to succeed, he noticed that Nebraska and his home city of Ningbo both start with the letter ‘N.’ Nebraska’s primary color is red, which in China, implies good luck.

The irony would hint that perhaps Zhou was meant to find his home away from home at UNL all along.

Still curious about international students at UNL? Check out this infographic!

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