FDU welcomes a new generation to the ‘melting pot’
By Kenna Caprio
As more international students than ever pursue a higher education in the United States, according to new data from the Institute of International Education, the need to welcome and include these students has become increasingly crucial for colleges and universities across the nation.
“There’s this thinking out there to just add international students to the mix and stir. You can’t just do that. There has to be some thought on how to integrate them (into the community),” says Krista Jenkins, associate professor of political science and director of FDU’s PublicMind poll.
With strong connections to the United Nations and international faculty, services and campuses, Fairleigh Dickinson University fosters an open exchange of ideas in multiple global learning environments. Approximately 850 international students are enrolled at the Metropolitan Campus and 80 international students study at the Florham Campus. Additionally, the Vancouver Campus specifically caters to an international student population.
In February 2014, Jenkins participated in a panel at the Association of International Education Administrators conference to share the results of a recent ELS-commissioned PublicMind study. In the 2012-2013 study, incoming FDU freshman on both New Jersey campuses were asked several questions about their attitudes on travel abroad, xenophobia, globalization anxiety and global competiveness, and general academic anxiety. Researchers, including Jenkins and Dan Cassino, associate professor of political science and PublicMind analyst, reached out to the same group again in the second year as a follow up.
“The presence of international students affects attitudes toward xenophobia and globalization, but not travel abroad or academic anxiety,” says Jenkins. “Being around people who are not like you normalizes the experience and softens it.”
The University makes a concerted effort, starting with international student orientation, to actively support and encourage the blending of cultures at the Metropolitan Campus and the Florham Campus. Students can then turn to the Office of International Student Services, the Office of Global Learning, campus cultural organizations and the Metropolitan Campus’ International Student Association (ISA) for more support.
“Orientation helps a lot,” says senior Ana Ayala, 21, originally of Quito, Ecuador. “You see you’re not the only one here from a different country who has trouble with the language.” In order to find her niche, Ayala knew she needed to meet other international students and more domestic students.
“The International Student Association felt like the best place I’d fit in,” says Ayala, now president of the group. “When I came here, I had so many questions during orientation that were not necessarily college-related. What motivated me to become president was to have a bigger impact on people’s lives.”
Today, the association has “a couple hundred active members,” says Jim Deleppo, University director of International Student Services, and is made up of about half international students and half domestic students. The group takes day and weekend trips, participates in Relay for Life, volunteers in the community, hosts a career panel and hunger banquet, and new this year, put on an international fashion show. More than 200 people attended the event, says Ayala. Students donated traditional clothes from their country of origin, while others volunteered as models.
“We try to do our best to push international students to extend themselves,” says Deleppo. “Part of that is taking advantage of education outside of the classroom. Otherwise, it’s easy to fall back on your culture.” Deleppo adds that it’s easier for international students who live on campus to mingle with domestic students and join clubs, teams or activities. Students looking for a way to connect can also visit his office for individualized advice or participate in International Education Week each November.
International students living at the Florham Campus are paired with an orientation leader from the U.S. upon arrival. “It’s more of an informal program to assist them with their first days on campus,” says Deleppo. This past fall, Deleppo launched a mentor program, matching new Metro international students with upperclassmen.
“I think that FDU does a great job in creating a globally-aware campus,” says Jamal Jefferson, a 21-year-old junior originally from Owings Mills, Maryland. He joined the ISA during his freshman year to meet new friends. “However, it’s up to the students to take advantage of this.”
Jenkins sees continued success and positive next steps for FDU’s international community, as the University “expands and becomes better at what we do, by continuing this research, staying part of the dialogue and learning from the international educational community.”