The Office of International Studies and Programs support students from 70 countries as they chase their dreams in the United States. To better serve these students, the program has crafted several programs to set these students up for success.
Matt Schwab ’07, M.S. ’09, associate director of International House (I-House) and Special Programs, said his role is advocating for international student organizations, educating the campus on international issues, and helping international students create an identity by connecting them with the larger campus community.
Schwab, who studied at Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain as an undergraduate, said his own trip abroad changed his life personally and professionally.
“The international connections you make and perspectives you gain from an international experience are invaluable to your personal and professional world view,” he said.
Though travel and study abroad opportunities are still limited due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Illinois State students from the U.S. have opportunities to broaden their cultural knowledge and meet international students by joining international student organizations and through the International Student Ambassador Program, which gives international students the opportunity to educate student organizations, faculty, and other campus groups about their home countries and cultures. To help international students integrate with the Illinois State community, the Global Redbirds Mentorship Adjustment Program pairs first-semester international students with returning international or U.S. students to meet and share experiences.
International Admissions saw a 50% increase in new student enrollment in fall 2021 compared to fall 2020. Countries outside of the U.S. with the most students enrolled at Illinois State are China, Ghana, India, and Nigeria.
Schwab had advice for incoming international students: “I know it’ll seem like a lot to get through, but I promise you once you’re here, the experience is worth it. For a study abroad experience in general, it’s an incredible life experience and beyond rewarding in all aspects of a person’s life. We recognize the challenge international students face, but the small-school dynamic that we have tends to resonate extremely well with the international student population.”
Two international students took some time out of their busy schedules to share their experiences at Illinois State University.
Veasna Huy, a sophomore computer science major from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, always wanted to study abroad. Huy was impressed by Illinois State’s curriculum and by how Bloomington-Normal feels like a true college town.
Huy misses his family, who live 10,000 miles away from Bloomington-Normal, but his study abroad experience has helped him develop as a person.
“Growing up in Cambodia, I was such a shy person, and talking to people at first was difficult,” he said. “Being here has helped me be more comfortable doing things on my own and gaining independence. It’s helped me become a better person.”
Now in his second year at Illinois State, Huy has joined registered student organizations like Redbird Dota 2, a branch of Redbird Esports. He has built additional personal and professional connections through his on-campus job working as an IT help desk technician in Student Affairs.
After graduation, Huy plans to stay in the United States to gain more work and life experience, then return to Cambodia to open his own business. He has advice for other international students.
“I just want them to be and feel more confident, so ask questions. In my experience, locals wanted to know more about me and my culture and show me all the places around here because they don’t want me to miss out on the experience,” he said.
Graduate student Nabeela Polly’s childhood dream was to study in the United States. When Polly left her native country of Bangladesh to come to Illinois State in 2019, she was immediately blown away by the beauty of the campus and the hospitality of the community.
“I was so worried about the language barrier, so I had to think before I spoke. It was a challenge, but everyone was so helpful, even the professors,” said Polly, who is pursuing an MBA and an M.S. in accounting. “That didn’t stop me from talking, presenting, or discussing in class though. Doing that helped me gain confidence when speaking English.”
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, Polly was put in a tough position. Her classes went remote, and her father had a stroke. She would study all day and then speak all night to her family because of the time difference between Illinois and Bangladesh. She maintained a sense of hope by connecting with family and friends.
Polly is set to graduate in the spring and hopes to join an accounting firm full time after college. Polly is getting assistance taking the next step in her career through the International Student Career Series, a joint initiative of Career Services and the International Student Scholar Services that help students with their resumes and prepare for interviews.
Polly had the following advice for international students: “As an international student, you will meet a lot of people who will give you a lot of information. Listen to what everyone says with a filter. If you don’t know where you want to see yourself after you graduate, it gets tough. Learn how to manage your time, improve yourself, and grow every day.”