Wichita State's international appeal remains strong
The Wichita State University campus boasts the most diverse student body in Kansas.
International students make up about 10 percent of the student population and account for approximately 30 percent of the university's tuition, according to Vince Altum, associate director of marketing, recruitment and admissions in the department of international education.
Since enrolling its first international students in 1917, WSU has seen a steady increase including an explosion of growth in the early 1980s.
Out of more than 14,500 students attending WSU for the 2008-09 school year, almost 1,400 are from countries outside the U.S.
A recent poll administered by the Office of International Education found that 93 percent of international students chose WSU because it was the university that contacted them first. WSU is able to reach students in such an efficient manner because of its steady work in communicating with international agents and by processing applications as quickly as possible.
Altum and the international education department are motivated by the belief that the presence of international students truly adds to the university and the community.
"International students are important (to the university) because they bring diversity to the Wichita State campus," he said. "International students have the opportunity to learn more about the U.S. when they are here and Americans, in turn, have a chance to learn a little bit more about other cultures and perspectives."
One international student who has explored this opportunity is Arvin Cruz, a 30-year-old graduate student from Manila, Philippines. He has been at WSU for seven years studying chemistry and plans to earn his master's degree in December 2008.
Cruz was drawn to WSU because it offered his field of study, replied quickly to his application, is situated in the Midwest, which offers low cost of living, and he wanted to see a new culture, having already visited major U.S. cities on both coasts.
To his surprise, Cruz immediately noticed the diverse international student population on campus and felt welcome after several positive encounters with friendly people in the area.
"I was nervous. I didn't know what to expect because I heard about people having prejudices," Cruz said. "But I've never experienced any racism here, and I've encouraged more Filipinos to come to WSU."
One of the ways Cruz has delved into American culture is through his involvement with the WSU Cultural Ambassadors Program. As an ambassador, he visits area public schools to share with students about Philippine culture and his experiences living and studying in the U.S.
Altum believes that CAP promotes cultural understanding and allows Americans and international students to learn a great deal from each other.
"It is important to remember that many international students have already learned a lot about American culture before they even came to the U.S.," Altum said. "International students, therefore, have a leg-up on many Americans who may have never studied another language or really gotten to know someone from another country.
"The Cultural Ambassador Program at Wichita State helps to bridge that gap by having some of our international students act as ambassadors in the community."
Cruz considers the ambassador opportunity to be a highlight of his time at WSU. In fact, he has adapted to American culture so much that he was surprised to feel somewhat disoriented when he returned home to the Philippines for a visit. When Cruz graduates in December, he plans to remain in the U.S. and apply for jobs in his field.
In order to continue recruiting a wealth of international students like Cruz, Altum has three goals for WSU in the coming years: grow the international undergraduate population at a manageable rate, continue to better diversify the international undergraduate population and target up-and-coming markets such as China and Vietnam.