Students from China and Taiwan come to La Verne for an American experience
by Katie Madden
photography by Kaung “Nick” Myat Tun
Juan “Beryl” Wang, a master’s of business administration student, hides from the sun under the patio of the welcoming and popular off-campus spot for international students, CoffeeBerry. Beryl eagerly shares her story, pausing frequently to think of the English word for her thoughts, but quickly retrieves them. Three years ago, Beryl came to La Verne from Yueyang, China, a small city in the Northeastern region of the Hunan Province. “I came to California because I wanted to stay in a place that was very warm,” she laughs, glancing at the sun that has been making it unseasonably hot for mid-September. “I searched the internet and liked this area because it is close to everything, and I chose La Verne because my friend goes here, and my brother is studying in Arizona. So we are close.”
Beryl is one of the hundreds of international students to come to La Verne to receive their master’s degrees. The University’s focus on recruiting these students has helped create several pacts between La Verne and universities in China and Taiwan.
Asian students, who make up 79.7 percent of La Verne’s international student population, are pursuing a variety of degrees, although most come to La Verne to obtain their MBAs. Ibrahim “Abe” Helou, dean of the College of Business and Public Management, plays an important role in recruiting international students. “We are building relationships with universities in Asia so we will have a steady pipeline of students coming after they finish their undergraduate or after finishing their third year of undergraduate studies,” says Helou. “That’s a way to ensure that you get a significant number of students from each institution.”
Why students are coming here
Recently, the number of international students, especially Chinese students, coming to study in the United States has risen exponentially. China is the leading origin place for international students in the United States according to the 2013 Open Doors Fact Sheet, published by the Institute of International Education (IIE). This study notes that 235,597 Chinese students studied in the United States in the 2012-2013 school year, up 21.4 percent from the prior year.
This upward trend is evident at the University of La Verne. According to data published by ULV’s Office of International Student Services, in the past five years the population of international students increased 77.6 percent from 487 students in fall 2010 to 865 students in fall 2013. In spring 2014, there were 673 Chinese students studying at La Verne out of 844 total international students, meaning they made up 79.7 percent of all international students. “It’s a growth opportunity for them to be on their own. Being a foreign student in another country gives them that opportunity to experience a different educational environment that promotes innovation, critical thinking and free thinking,” says Helou. “Some of the educational systems in the world are very structured and leave very limited room for the faculty and students to be creative.”
Sara Jin, a visiting scholar from Wuhan, China, arrived at La Verne late September to research and write about the differences between teaching methods in China and the United States. “In China, teachers want to give knowledge, and it is more about reciting back facts, but in America teachers have more discussions and seminars and let the students talk. Here, it is much more about expressing yourself and your ideas, but in China it is concrete,” says the journalism professor.
Currently, California leads as the nation’s top state for hosting international students, according to data collected by the IIE, a private, not-for-profit organization that collects data on international students. For the past 13 years, the University of Southern California hosted the most international students in the nation; however, New York University surpassed USC in international student enrollment this school year by only 200 students.
Hsuan “Jasmine” Chen is a 24-year-old La Verne accounting graduate student from Taoyuan City, Taiwan. She turned to Direct Line International Education Co., an agency in Taiwan, to find a school in California. Several were recommended, including La Verne. After researching more on Facebook, she chose La Verne because of its small town feel. Dreams of sunny California are vivid in the minds of many international students when they are trying to decide where in the United States to study. Their reasons, though, go far beyond the hopes of seeing what world-famous Southern California has to offer.
Jose Perez Gonzalez, international student coordinator and faculty in modern languages at La Verne, says California is often the top choice because it is close to their home countries. “They favor California because of geographical distance,” he says. “Second, this area has a large population of Asian Americans so they have all these services and established communities that they feel comfortable and safe living in, and then interacting in their own ethnic enclaves.” Jasmine confirms this theory, saying that when she goes out to dinner in Arcadia or San Gabriel, cities close to her Pasadena home, local Asian American people recognize that she is foreign and speak to her in Chinese.
University of La Verne President Devorah Lieberman, who has been very supportive of La Verne’s internationalization, says it is the responsibility of both students and the administration to bridge these cultural divides. “The only way you are going to grow is when you are not comfortable, and when you are with people who are just like you, you’re the most comfortable,” Lieberman says. “So you have to take the initiative and find ways to be with people who are not like you, and it is the University’s responsibility to provide those opportunities.”
Helou says there are also many reasons the University wants to attract international students. “International students add another dimension of diversity to our campus. The diversity of our campus creates other learning opportunities for domestic students because internationalization is not going away. The world is moving more and more toward globalization. Economically, they are a big piece because they pay full tuition, and they provide a significant boost to the University budget that allows us to do things to benefit everybody.” Current full tuition for full-time MBA students is $50,000 per year.
Although the numbers of international students have risen dramatically since President Lieberman came to La Verne, she says it was not intentional. Nevertheless, she has engaged in multiple relationship building trips to Asia during 2014. “I believe in internationalizing our campus so strongly that it’s part of the water that I swim in, and I was supportive of others who wanted to internationalize the campus for the right reasons,” she says. “The right reason is that it’s good for everybody because the more you interact with people who are different from you, the more you understand the differences and the similarities, the more open minded one is, and the more skills one has with interacting with others who are different.” The president adds that these relationships will benefit domestic students and faculty who may want to study or teach abroad. “At this point, Dean Helou is talking with the program coordinators from a couple schools [in Asia] to see how our students can participate in their institutions.”
Integrating international students
Despite the benefits, there are issues that still need to be addressed to best accommodate this large and growing population. For example, while Jasmine’s admiration for La Verne is clear—she speaks as fondly of the University and town as she does of her home back in Taiwan—she still has concerns. “In my class, I have students from China and Taiwan, and it is good for me to talk with them, but I would like to have more native students in my classes—that is what I expected. I want to have the opportunity to explore everything here. Most of the time, I just only study and have class and do not get a chance to practice my English.”
Jasmine’s inability to integrate into American culture as much as she wants is a common problem, according to Perez Gonzalez. “For the most part international students tend to be clustered together, and that is not a good idea,” he says. “Research has shown it doesn’t work, and it works against them for practicing their English, making friends and acculturating into the college environment.”
Helou says that the problem of unintentional classroom division happens naturally because most of the international students fall under the category of the Career MBA program, where classes occur during the day, while most domestic students are in the MBA for the Experienced Professional program, which is taught through night classes. The Career MBA is a program designed for students who do not have prior professional experience, while the MBA for the Experienced Professional program is for students with a minimum of three years of full-time professional experience. Nevertheless, Helou says sometimes the classes mix, giving international students more chances to interact with domestic students.
Beyond language, Chinese students are learning American culture through a new teaching style. “Some of these issues are perceived rather than real, because the Chinese students come from a culture where you don’t speak to authority figures,” Helou says. “They come from an educational system that is primarily based in lectures, not a discussion. If a faculty member calls on them to answer a question in their first semester, it’s very new to them. The international students, especially when they first come here, are very disadvantaged compared to the domestic students.”
He cites an example of how a professor can refer to the NYSE, and domestic students will immediately recognize it as the New York Stock Exchange, while international students might not know what it means because they are not familiar with the American business model or lingo. He adds that his department is attempting to fix these issues. “We are reworking the MBA curriculum to create an immersive, integrative program that emphasizes experiential learning and community engagement. Students will then have the opportunity to go to companies outside the University to not only work with the companies but also to increase their exposure to the American business system.”
La Verne as a cultural home
A growing population may mean growing pains, but international students are impressively preparing for the future. After moving from the ELS program to the MBA program and finally settling on accounting, Jasmine now thinks of La Verne as a cultural home and is hoping to find a job in the United States in corporate accounting. Beryl has immersed herself even more into the program and into American business. Last year, she gained the opportunity to go to the Sixth Global Supply Chain Management Conference in Detroit with Yingxia Cao, assistant professor of Decision Sciences. There, she delivered a presentation about the development of social media in business. “If I stay here and get a job in America, it will be a new beginning for a totally new life,” Beryl says. “I feel very lucky I got to come here. I still have much to learn, but I am excited for the future.”