Each year the U.S. hosts more than 1 million international students, and Minnesota is a top destination. International students have always been central to global diplomacy and internationalization efforts in higher education. The first international students recorded at the University of Minnesota were in 1874. Today there are more than 5,000 international students and scholars on campus.
This year CEHD is home to more than 300 international students, representing 57 countries. Being a part of CEHD shapes their identity and future career planning. In turn, these individuals bring unique perspectives to our programs and community.
Cindy Yang came to the School of Social Work from China to major in youth studies. She says coming to a large institution like the U of M as an international student was valuable in so many ways: It allowed her to see more cultures, meet new friends from different countries, and witness new living and study experiences. “The teaching ways are so different, and seeing those differences is my favorite part of being an international student,” she says. “These perspectives definitely influenced my academic experience.”
Particularly impressive to Yang has been the helpfulness of her instructors. “The professors I met are super nice and welcoming for international students,” she says. “I think it’s important for the professors to know that for international students in their classes, their support is super important for us.”
Pubudu Senaratne has also found her place at CEHD. From Sri Lanka, Senaratne is currently a student in the Department of Family Social Science MA/PhD program.
“My intended research area is working with immigrant and refugee families,” she says. And helping with that are her own experiences as an international student. “Even though I had known and heard about how diverse American society is before I started living here, the actual experience provided me with living proof of it,” she says.
Senaratne’s international experience also led to changes within herself. “My experience with diverse individuals and situations turned me into a more welcoming and embracing human being,” she says. “This broadens my own way of looking at other human beings and even myself in a more empathetic and compassionate manner.”
Like Yang, Senaratne says she found the support she received from CEHD encouraging. She felt especially welcome when she saw the Sri Lankan flag on display at McNeal Hall when she went there for classes for the first time.
CEHD’s welcoming atmosphere is one of several key aspects that attracted Rawan Algahtani. “I came to attend CEHD as it is one of the best colleges when it comes to accommodating students’ diversity and developmental leadership,” says the Saudi Arabian student. “Also, the great and inspiring faculty who teach at this college was one of my biggest motivators to attend.”
Algahtani is a junior in the human resource development program in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. “I want to work in a plethora of various fields related to interacting with individuals and creating powerful projects for our global community,” she says. “Nevertheless, if I do not find a career that would satisfy my passion, I will go ahead and create one.”
She says that her experience in a new country does make her look at the world through a completely different lens. “I consider being an international student a cultural, yet educational, privilege to my surroundings and myself,” she says. However, she also realizes that the exchange is not all one way. “Whereas I am learning, at the same time I am contributing my international background through academic discussions, daily life, and professional work,” she says. “It does add a unique perspective to many activities I am part of, in addition to educational culture-exchanging conversations.”
To help promote cross-cultural exchange and develop a sense of belonging and inclusion, CEHD hosts several special events and programming for international students. One such event is the CEHD International Thanksgiving. Created in 2007, it’s an opportunity to gather and enjoy traditional Thanksgiving food in a festive and welcoming environment. “I chatted and interacted with Dean Michael Rodriguez and CEHD event coordinators,” says Algahtani, who attended last year’s get-together. “The Thanksgiving event means a lot to me, as it gives me a chance to take a break from academic and work life to breathe and socialize.”
New perspectives such as these have made Algahtani’s experience at CEHD extremely rich, she says, adding that the kindness and support she’s received would be hard to find elsewhere. “People at CEHD generally care about the success of every single student, domestic or international,” she says.
International students are a meaningful part of our college community and become lifelong contributors to our internationalization efforts. These students faced increased challenges in the past two years, and their ability to navigate through an uncertain period in history shows their commitment and resiliency. We have an important responsibility to welcome and support international students.