By Bryan Betts, News Editor
Furman was quiet when Jeffrey Kyeremeh arrived. It was Tuesday, August 16, three days before the rest of the freshman class was scheduled to move in, and hardly anyone was around but hall staff and the marching band.
Kyeremeh had just flown into Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP) from Atlanta earlier that morning. His journey hadn’t begun in Atlanta though. It had begun over a week earlier, thousands of miles away in his hometown of Accra, Ghana. After four flights, a Greyhound bus ride and a short stay in Pennsylvania, Kyeremeh had finally made it to Furman. It was his first time on campus.
“The place was just fantastic,” he said. “The Internet doesn’t do it justice. It’s far better in person.”
Kyeremeh is one of 22 students in this year’s freshman class who have come from abroad to study at Furman. It is the largest group of international students Furman has ever had, more than triple the size of last year’s group, bringing the total number of international students on campus to 42.
Students in this year’s group come from nine different countries on four continents. China is the most represented country with 12 students. Furman recruited aggressively in China to capitalize on the growing number of Chinese seeking to attend college abroad.
International Admission Counselor Martha Kimmel spearheaded Furman’s recruitment efforts in China, traveling to high schools throughout the country that tend to send students abroad. During her visits, Kimmel sought to explain and promote liberal arts education, attempting to attract applicants who opted not to take take China’s college placement test, the Gao Kao.
Recruitment seems to be working; Furman received over 280 applications from international students, roughly half of whom were Chinese.
Furman’s commitment to increasing the size of the international population was most recently affirmed in the Strategic Planning Committee Preliminary Report released last April. The document states that Furman’s “commitment to academic excellence should include … greater recruitment of international students.”
The decision to increase emphasis on international recruitment began before the Strategic Planning talks last spring. Yancey Fouche, Assistant Director of the Office of Study Away and International Education, attributed the shift to President Smolla’s arrival.
“My sense is that recent changes in the presidency and administration have brought a new focus on diversity and, with that, international students,” she said.
Fouche noted that Furman’s attempt to internationalize is part of a broader trend throughout undergraduate education. She suggested that colleges and universities are recruiting international students for three reasons: to increase the quality of education, to attract global recognition, and to tap into a growing market of students.
“The world can no longer be insular,” Fouche said. “It’s not a choice anymore.”
Figures from the Institute of International Education show that international student enrollment continues to grow in the United States. In 2010, over 200,000 new international students enrolled in American colleges. Total international enrollment rose to nearly 700,000, and almost 20% of these students came from China.
According to the Office of Admission, the university has made it a long-term goal to make Furman 10% international in order to match enrollment figures at peer schools in the northeast. Furman is currently less than 2% international.
The university recognizes that increasing the size of Furman’s international population could present difficulties. The foremost concern is that growth occurs at the right pace, Fouche said.
“We have to make sure students come prepared and have a good experience.”
The Orientation Before Orientation
Like other freshmen, international students must learn to adjust as they transition to life at Furman. However, their adjustments are larger and their transitions more difficult.
The Office of Study Away and International Education (OSAIE) tries to help international students acclimate to life at Furman by bringing them to campus a few days before the rest of the freshman class. Call it the orientation before orientation.
This year’s group arrived Tuesday, August 16 and spent most of the day settling into their dorm and recovering from jet lag. Many didn’t arrive until late in the evening following long, pan-oceanic flights. It took Yuqi Wei 42 hours and two connections to fly from Kunming, China to Greenville. Her plane didn’t land at GSP until after midnight.
Orientation began 7:30 a.m. the next day. After meeting each other and playing icebreaker games, the international students took golf cart tours of campus. For most, it was their first time seeing Furman’s campus outside of pictures, distance having kept them from visiting during the application process. Not surprisingly, “beautiful” was a common refrain.
Later that afternoon, the OSAIE shuttled students back and forth between Furman and Wal-Mart. Like so many other Furman students before, they purchased food, towels, and toiletries and struggled to find size twin extra-long sheets.
Several students commented on the Wal-Mart’s size—”It’s huge!”—and the friendliness of strangers. Indian student Rahul Isaac described the cultural difference: “In India, you’d get really weird looks if you said hello to a stranger.”
On Thursday morning, the international students met in Johns Hall 101 for a presentation by theOSAIE. Program Assistant Chrissy Carpenter walked through the steps students must follow to remain legal in the United States. Failure to renew a document and keep information up to date could keep students from reentering the country after a visit home. The F-1 visa, one of their most important documents, establishes their status as degree-seeking college students.
A panel discussion followed the morning’s presentation. Established international students and Furman professors explained the American education system and advised students on how to interact with students and professors in the classroom. The day concluded with more Wal-Mart runs.
Friday morning, nearly 800 freshmen flooded Furman’s campus for move in day. Cars crowded E-Field and campus parking lots as students and their parents filled empty dorm rooms with packed boxes. Meanwhile, back in Johns Hall 101, a banker helped the international students open a checking account, tricky business for those without a Social Security number.
The international students joined their respective hall later that afternoon. For many, unpolished English skills created communication problems while a mutual lack of cultural understanding impeded conversation.
Still both Yuqi Wei and Kyeremeh said that their hallmates were friendly and welcoming.Kyeremeh, however, tempered his comment and hit on a relational dilemma that international students often face.
“I don’t need people who are nice,” he said. “I need people who can be family to me.”
As O-Week came to an end, Wei and Kyeremeh expressed some anxiety about the school year. Class participation and social life were major concerns, butKyeremeh still managed to reaffirm his commitment to becoming a part of the Furman community.
“I’d like to be seen as a Furman student,” he said.