This semester, Shippensburg University has 85 international students from 27 different countries across five different continents.
They are miles away from home and anyone they know, yet somehow manage to become a part of new social groups, learn a new culture and earn a degree from a completely different type of educational system from that to which they are accustomed.
John Enerah, a 21-year-old sophomore from Nigeria, came to the United States just a year ago to attend SU. This was his first trip to the United States. Prior to this visit, he had traveled around Nigeria and had also been to Ghana, another country in Africa.
In Nigeria, students already have the opportunity to complete the tertiary, or college, portion of their education. There are also traditional higher education opportunities provided there. Enerah completed a two-year degree at a polytechnic school.
Credits he had earned could not be transferred to Shippensburg. Mary Burnett, associate dean of students and director of international studies, explained that not many foreign credits transfer due to differences in the quality of education. Enerah is studying computer engineering at SU and hopes to own his own company someday.
The United States provides a wide array of opportunities, many of which other countries do not always have available to their citizens. Burnett has noticed that students choose to further their education in the U.S. because there is also a higher quality of education here.
According to the World Education Services, population in Nigeria is exceeding capacity for educational services. There are currently 120 million people living in Nigeria and 30 million of those are students. This has caused students to seek other available opportunities within the country, as well as overseas.
The Institute of International Education (IIE) conducted a survey with 420 international students from 24 different institutions across the U.S. Of those students, 83 percent agreed that part of their decision to study abroad relied heavily on the positive reputation attached to attaining a degree from the U.S.
Big name schools were high on Enerah’s list of potential school’s to attend. Burnett believes that students choose Shippensburg over other universities because of reasonably small classes, affordable costs, a safe location and close proximity to larger cities.
Small classes allow accessibility that international students may not have in a larger classroom. Professors are sometimes more willing to work one-on-one in a small classroom environment.
Enerah is from a small town and wished to veer away from any similar kind of setting. Burnett contends that the rural location is appealing to a lot of international students because it is in close proximity to Harrisburg, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. Instead of living in a city setting, Shippensburg provides protection by being a quieter town, but also allows quick access to larger cities to visit on the weekend.
Some of the faculty members have been more than willing to help out Enerah. He found that not all students were as friendly as he had hoped at first. It helped that he had Dr. Carol Wellington, computer science department chairwoman and professor, who is always willing to answer any questions her students may have.
“International students can sometimes be uncomfortable as they get used to our educational system … they may require some extra prodding to convince them that it is appropriate for them to ask questions in class or come to office hours,” Wellington said.
Enerah took advantage of the offer and was able to succeed in Wellington’s class. During orientation, Burnett said, “We stress that if we don’t hear from you, we think you’re OK.” She stressed the importance that students know that they can ask for help whenever they need it. Just this past year, Shippensburg faculty members have also made themselves available as mentors to international students.
International students can find it hard to miss out on everything at home. Nigeria is home to everything Enerah knows and loves. He misses his family, friends and all the celebrations they have. Recently, Enerah has found a group he can call his brothers, Phi Sigma Kappa. He is an avid soccer player and is able to continue his passion by playing with his fraternity friends. He is also involved with the International Student Organization, which holds many events for international students to meet and converse.
“Having international students helps expose domestic students to diversity,” Burnett said. Much like international students can benefit from interacting with students from the United States; domestic student’s can benefit from interacting with international students. Having an appreciation for different cultures is key, and bringing in international students is a great way to start.
Enerah hopes to graduate from Shippensburg and live wherever he finds success, whether back at home or in the U.S.; but preferably somewhere without snow.