Iowa Chinese Students Struggle To Adjust, Feel Lack Of Support

The story was originally published on on June 24, 2014.

The University of Iowa has intensely recruited Chinese students since 2007, but has made little progress helping them assimilate to campus life.

In some respects, an IowaWatch investigation has found, the university’s practices make interactions with domestic students more difficult and increase isolation.

Chinese undergraduates, who pay tuition twice that of in-state students, made up the overwhelming majority of the roughly 4,000 international students at the UI.

Top university officials acknowledged in interviews their responsibility to integrate international students into campus life. The university’s official manual lists diversity as a “core value,” obligating it to foster inclusiveness and educate students for success in a “diverse and global environment.”

Nevertheless, many students begin to feel alienation from the moment they arrive in Iowa City.

Yifei Li, a UI senior, said people have yelled “Ching Chang Ling” at her on campus and she has seen derogatory remarks on Twitter about Chinese students at the UI.

“The things you see on Twitter, you can hear them in the dorms, in the streets and when you hang out with friends,” she said.

Among the difficulties Chinese students face:

  • Racist insults in social media and in person, with the UI failing to publicly denounce such incidents as other universities have done in similar cases.
  • Separate university orientations upon arrival on campus, reducing the opportunity for interactions and relationships with domestic students from the outset.
  • Events and programs designed by the university especially for international students that seldom attract domestic students.

The UI and other universities go to great lengths to recruit international students, who enhance a university’s international reputation. But top UI officials admitted this year that an influx of international students left them unprepared to help the students integrate with domestic students and improve campus life for them.

“I won’t say it’s perfect,” UI President Sally Mason responded when asked about campus life for international students. “I think we have lots more to do.”

Tom Rocklin, UI vice president for student life, said the university went recruiting without being prepared for the sudden influx of Chinese undergraduates and the need to help them integrate. The students succeed academically, but improving interactions with the community is another matter, he said.

“It’s a tricky business. But we had not tested whether our programs would be effective for students from China,” Rocklin said, adding that “when we say international, we really mean China.”

Many higher education experts say the patterns and behaviors seen at Iowa exist nationwide and some describe a growth of neo-racism, a discrimination based on culture and nationality besides biological characteristics.

Much of the discussion about the international-domestic separation devolves into inconclusive debate over who is more to blame: Chinese students for forming cliques and not trying to get involved or domestic students for lacking curiosity and empathy in building international friendships.

Jeffrey Ding, the incoming University of Iowa Student Government vice president, said the division between international and domestic students is subtle.

“International students usually sit by each other. Domestic students sit by each other,” Ding said of his classes at the Tippie College of Business, where nearly 20 percent of the students are from China. “It’s not like explicit, like racism, like segregation, but there is that separation.”

Mary Knorr, who graduated in May, said many of her fellow American students are “disinterested and not curious and almost arrogant toward other cultures.” That leads to negative assumptions and stereotypes, like Chinese students drive luxury cars, dress differently and don’t socialize, she said.

“There are just so many things that separate us that are visible. When the language barrier is there, and you don’t feel like you can communicate 100 percent, you go off what you see,” she said.


Source: University of Iowa Office of Assessment

Source: University of Iowa Office of Assessment

[see more infographics of SERU findings on international student experience at the UI]

A UI survey last year, Student Experience in the Research University, showed that international students feel significantly less respected and less belonging than domestic students, including domestic minorities.

Sam Van Horne, assessment coordinator in Office of the Provost, called the differences “troubling findings.”

The university had 2,266 Chinese students — 1,673 of them undergraduates — in the fall 2013 semester; almost double the number six years ago, when only a few dozen Chinese undergraduates were enrolled. Now, undergraduates from China account for 74 percent of the UI international undergraduate population, nearly triple the national trend of 28 percent reported by the 2013 Open Doors Report.

Source: University of Iowa International International Students and Scholars Statistics

Source: University of Iowa International International Students and Scholars Statistics

[review more infographics of trends in international student enrollment at the UI]

Studies attribute the increase to the rise of middle class in China, the financial problems of U.S. universities and colleges and higher education’s need for diversity.

Ninety-seven percent of the UI foreign undergraduates pay their own way, according to the University of Iowa International Students and Scholars Statistics. They contributed more than $110 million to the local economy, and the overall international students contribute $24 billion to the national economy in 2012-13, a report by the NAFSA: Association of International Educators said.

Chris Glass, an assistant professor of education foundations and leadership at Old Dominion University, said if universities treat international students just as a source of revenue, the students don’t develop a sense of connection to their university and the university is losing future alumni.

UI leaders are concerned for international students beyond the revenue they generate, Rocklin said in a March 13 interview.

“We could say, ‘Hey, they come, they graduate. What’s to worry about?’” he said. “And they pay tuition, frankly. But we don’t really feel that way. We feel like there’s more to our promise to students… I think we’re implicitly telling them, ‘Come to Iowa, get an education and learn a lot about American culture.’”

Rocklin said that although integration depends on individuals to form connections, he agrees the university has a responsibility to help integrate international students into campus life.

This responsibility is written out in the UI operations manual, which says diversity advances the university’s teaching, research and service missions. The university, the manual states, is “dedicated to an inclusive community in which people of different cultural, national, individual, and academic backgrounds encounter one another in a spirit of cooperation, openness, and shared appreciation.”

But creating conditions for cross-boundary interaction is challenging.

“I don’t know that anyone has figured that out anywhere,” Rocklin said.

Cultural differences, language barrier, and unwillingness to step outside of comfort zones contribute to the separation, said Ding, who moved to Iowa City from Shanghai when he was 3 and who has become an activist for international students.

Can Zhang, former vice president of the UI Chinese Students and Scholars Association who graduated in May, said many Chinese came to Iowa eager to make friends with Americans but had difficulty getting involved in their activities because of language hurdles and cultural differences.

Zhang said he makes casual friendships easily, because Americans are usually nice. But to truly be friends with them is difficult.

Nationally, about 40 percent of international students reported they don’t have close American friends, according to a study published in the June 2012 Journal of International and Intercultural Communication.

Getting domestic students to engage with international students is challenging, Vice President Rocklin said.

“If you’re the other, then you have a strong motivation to learn about the dominant,” he said. “If you’re the dominant, where’s your motivation to learn about the other? Curiosity. But not survival.”

Douglas Lee, assistant provost for UI International Programs, said the separation might not be an issue for all students. Some international students come to the United States just for a degree and have little interest in mingling with others, as do some domestic students, he said.

“And that’s fine… If you don’t want to have this interaction, we shouldn’t try to force that on you.”

Although experts say similar segregation between Chinese and domestic students exists on campuses across the country, they also say good solutions exist and that universities can do things well short of force.

Glass, the Old Dominion University professor, said universities should change every aspect of university service, from food services to academic advising, housing, teaching, event programming, orientation, career services and teaching.

Glass is a lead researcher of the Global Perspective Inventory, which examines student experiences based on survey responses from 70,000 undergraduates, including 5,000 international students, at 135 U.S. colleges and universities.

He said universities should provide co-curricular activities and “a significant amount” of multicultural coursework and leadership programs that involve discussion on multicultural and multiracial issues. They also should try to make sure U.S. students engage in multicultural classes.

The UI doesn’t require a diversity course. Students need to take one course in the general education area of Values, Society and Diversity, which doesn’t have to be cross-cultural. A course about jazz music, for example, would fulfill the requirement.


Last fall a surge of prejudiced remarks against Asian students – mainly those from China – appeared on Twitter. The Twitter account UIasianprobz had been reposting photos and negative and hateful remarks about Asian students based on how they dress and act. “Meant for comedy only. No racism intended,” said the account profile.

A September column in The Daily Iowan, the UI campus newspaper, denounced this, but the university didn’t respond.

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Joelle Brown, governmental relations liaison at the University of Iowa Student Government, said she raised the Twitter issue at a monthly student leaders meeting with President Mason 20 days after The Daily Iowan article was published, but did not show the tweets to Mason. Mason said she cared about international students, and referred Brown to other central officials involved in international student life. Student leaders started meeting then with administrators at different levels regarding issues facing international students, Brown said.

Mason said she learned that there were issues facing international students at the meeting, but had not been aware of the derogatory tweets until interviewed. If she had been aware of them, she said in an April interview for this story, she might have publicly denounced them. She said seeing the tweets is sad and that she felt sorry that international students are experiencing racism.

“I’m not tolerant of racist or bigoted behavior,” she said. “I just think that’s inappropriate especially in a college setting where we need to be accepting and learning about different cultures and learning what tolerance means.”

Vice President Rocklin, who labeled himself a huge advocate of free speech, said he felt helpless while dealing with the issue because the university has little power to deal with intolerance or ignorance and could not stop the racist remarks on the Internet. He said university officials had talked to students, encouraging them to speak up.

“What we can do when the context is right is send a message first to international students that this isn’t the university’s position; we don’t approve,” Rocklin said. “And empower people to help teach their fellow students. We can give them encouragement.”

But did the UI send that message?

“I’m sorry, I don’t remember,” Rocklin said. “I just don’t remember what we did, to tell you the truth.”

Downing Thomas, associate provost and dean of UI International Programs, acknowledged his awareness of the hurtful language but said the university shouldn’t respond.

“If you respond directly, you encourage people to continue whatever they are doing,” Thomas said. He said the campus climate for international students is “pretty good.”

“And so sometimes it’s better just to leave that alone, and to work on other areas.”

Glass, the Old Dominion University professor and researcher leading a national study of international student experiences, said stopping racist behavior isn’t a realistic goal because of its deep origin, but a university can change its culture.

“You can change the curriculum. You can convene different people in student affairs to talk about this issue. You can make this topic as your annual retreat for your different offices,” he said. “And if this isn’t a topic on the agenda, then they’re not exercising the leadership that they could on this issue.”

When things like the Twitter incident at Iowa happen, intervention by the institution is important, said Jenny Lee, associate professor at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona. Lee, along with her research team, has interviewed and surveyed more than 1,000 international students. She said the university needed to send a clear message to its foreign students, conveying its appreciation and help them combat the horrible feeling.

“Yes, there could be 99 very nice (U.S.) students,” she said. “But it’s that one out of 100 who can really make your experience so much worse and make you feel unwelcome.”

The UIasianprobz Twitter account eventually disappeared. The university didn’t take it down, according to Rocklin. But another Twitter account, UIHawkeyeProbz, which is active, reposts similar derogatory statements on international students.

Li, the UI senior, said screenshots of the tweets were posted on Renren, a Chinese social media website, which had received thousands of hits and aroused controversy.

Some Chinese students thought it was not a problem and blamed the targeted students for not knowing local culture, and some thought the students should “keep calm and carry on,” although they acknowledged it was hurtful language, she said.

“But I don’t think that’s right. If you don’t speak up to defend yourself, evScreen Shot 2014-12-10 at 11.32.24 AMen though discrimination doesn’t happen to you today, it will happen to you some day.”

“It arouses my anger whenever it occurs to me that that thousands of Chinese students are coming in the future,” she added. “No one deserves that experience.”

The phenomenon of cultural segregation and discrimination against international students is not unique to the UI. Universities across the countries has seen similar issues happen in social media and real life.


Hate speech, spoken or tweeted, takes place on other campuses; and sometimes, university officials respond directly.

In 2011, a former student at the University of California, Los Angeles, Alexandra Wallace, made an anti-Asian YouTube rant.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block issued a public statement, saying, “I am appalled by the thoughtless and hurtful comments of a UCLA student posted on YouTube. Like many of you, I recoil when someone invokes the right of free expression to demean other individuals or groups. … I believe that speech that expresses intolerance toward any group of people on the basis of race or gender, or sexual, religious or cultural identity is indefensible and has no place at UCLA.”

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block delivered a video message denouncing an anti-Asian YouTube rant by a former UCLA student.

Block echoed his statement in a video message.

Two years ago, Michigan State University’s student newspaper reported a similar social media racism against Chinese students. The university organized a photo campaign called, “OUR MSU: Our Voices. Our Struggles” to denounce discrimination and intolerance on campus. Glass, the Old Dominion professor, called it courageous academic leadership.

Glass said senior administrators need to organize a task force to gather faculty and administrators across the university to name the problems and discuss ways to restructure the institution.

These incidents, including the twitter comments at the UI, reflect a prevailing but often understated problem.

Jenny Lee, the Arizona professor who has studied international students for nearly a decade, said students suffer in silence from discrimination. Some abuse is physical, some is verbal and sometimes it is in more subtle forms and in thoughts people don’t state or recognize. Most foreign students don’t speak up because of visa concerns or fear of being dismissed, she said.

Lee, the daughter of Korean immigrants, co-authored an article in Higher Education in 2007, describing the phenomenon as neo-racism, discrimination based on culture and nationality besides biological characteristics. Neo-racism justifies racism by appealing to the tendencies to maintain the dominant group’s cultural or national identity.

Seven years after the article’s publication, the situation has gotten worse on college campuses, Lee said. The sudden growth in the number of Chinese students results in far more tensions. They get a lot more attention, resistance, and discrimination from local communities, students and professors, she said.

Lee said neo-racism affects international students academically, socially and mentally and will prevent them from getting the full benefits of the education.

Students who feel discrimination return to their home countries and share their unpleasant experiences, which could affect university enrollments and revenues, since international students pay twice or three times more tuition than local students. Lee said this is one reason university administrators are hesitant to discuss the problem.


Some of the University of Iowa’s standard programs, such as special events for international students, orientation, and the housing program often contribute to the separation of foreign and domestic students.

International students receive e-mails from the university about events designed for them, such as pumpkin carvings, egg coloring and trips to Amanas. Few U.S. students attend.

Brown, the student government member, said she was one of two U.S. students at last year’s pumpkin carving event, and she wouldn’t have known about it if her international friends had not told her.

“U.S. students are not in short supply,” Brown said. “There are people who want to get involved. You just need to let them know.”

Some UI programs have had successful experiences working with domestic students but the successes required extra efforts beyond sending mass e-mails.

Jennifer Blair, assistant director of Global Community Engagement at Tippie College of Business, piloted the “International Buddies” program last spring, where 112 international and U.S. business and pre-business undergraduates paired up for a semester-long partnership. She said the Global Engagement Student Advisory Board at Tippie, which she oversees, is a good vehicle for event programming.

Another initiative, Global Leadership Starts Here, brought in 50 participants — half U.S., half international. Faculty, academic advisors and students organized the initiative in February to foster connections between domestic and international students. The workshop had an ICON class site, an online class support system at the UI that allows users to access documents and participate in online discussions. Organizers also sent hand-addressed invitations and reminders to specific participants (Disclosure: the author of this article was involved in planning this event).

On May 14, The Daily Iowan published a column by President Mason, in which she celebrated the upcoming commencements for this year and announced the university was going to broadcast its business school commencement to China with translation and commentary. “I will continue to look for opportunities to send positive messages about the diversity of our campus because I believe that positive reinforcement can often work to elicit positive change, more so than creating an adversarial environment,” Mason wrote in an e-mail to IowaWatch.


Sara Wom of Des Moines said she was surprised when four years ago she participated in her orientation program in late July. International students were not participating.

“You would think that it’s a diverse school; you would see other people who are not from the U.S.,” Wom said

International Students and Scholars Services, under International Programs, holds international student orientation the week before school starts. During the first few days or weeks in Iowa, new students have few chances to interact with Americans.

Lee Seedorf, senior associate director of International Students and Scholars Services, said international students usually arrive at the end of the summer because visa regulations do not let them enter the United States more than 30 days before the start of school. Meanwhile, domestic students have orientation throughout the summer.

Because of the divide, Seedorf said, domestic students aren’t taught to be culturally sensitive or respectful of international students. “I see this tying into things like racial and ethnic harassments that’s going on, and the twitters, or people harassing people verbally on the street,” she said.

Seedorf said getting U.S. students involved in international student orientation was challenging. In the past, only a few applied to be volunteers and some didn’t show up. She would like to require participation in international student orientations for certain majors or funds to pay domestic students to get involved, which would require the approval of various academic programs and administrators.

The same constraints affecting orientation sometimes affect housing choices. A lengthy visa process and other travel uncertainties mean many Chinese students cannot commit to the university and cannot apply for campus housing until late in the game, when dormitories often are full. The university squeezes the overflow into temporary quarters such as a dormitory floor lounge with as many as seven others.

Two years ago, 78 of the 189 students in temporary housing were international students. The university is making progress. Last year only 16 of the 46 students assigned to temporary housing were international students.

Von Stange, UI senior director of university housing, said reserving residence hall space for international students would be unfair to students who applied early. He also said forcing American and international students to room together when they may not want to do so would cause problems for both.

“I don’t think our domestic 18-year-olds are mature enough to live with an international student, to be quite honest,” he said.


Home is where I am

I felt extremely overwhelmed during the first few days when I was back in my hometown, Hangzhou. The streams of cars and seas of people made me want to go back to the peaceful Iowa. Now that I’ve stayed in Beijing for a month, which is 800  miles away from my hometown, I feel at home here, and Iowa is like a strange land in my memory.

The day after I had my wisdom teeth removed, I flew to Beijing with a bad headache due to toothache. Although I had been to this city several times and was familiar with it, I still felt a sense of lost the first night when I arrived.

It may sound funny but what made me feel at home in Beijing was the kitchen in my place. I went grocery shopping the next day and made myself a big meal. Once I realized that I could feed myself like elsewhere, I was settled.

My first meal in Beijing.

My first meal in Beijing.

Waidiren — people from other places

In order to get a pass to enter the Diplomatic Compound where I work, I was told that I had to have a temporary residence permit besides my ID. I asked why my ID wouldn’t work. The person who was busy issuing other people’s passes said without looking at me, “Because you are a Waidiren.”

Waidiren literally means people from other places or aliens.

I wasn’t born in Beijing and I’m not a resident here, which prevents me from getting lots of benefits that locals enjoy. I had known this already. But still it was surprising to me that my Chinese citizenship doesn’t work very well even in China. I had to prove that I was temporarily staying in Beijing to get the pass to work. To get the temporary residence permit, I had to go through another complicated process with the local police station, which was a pain.

This made me aware the first time in my life that I was excluded in China. I thought China was ridiculous, but wasn’t mad; it’s just so difficult to get certain things done here, and I’m just not used to the way it is anymore. I have been a foreigner (Waiguoren) in Iowa, and now I’m a Waidiren in Beijing. They are not very different.

Home is where I am

A famous saying goes, “Home is where the heart is.” It’s too abstract for me. I would say, home is where I am.

I have been away from “home”–the place where I had lived with my families for 20 years–for three years. And surprisingly, I don’t miss it a lot while I am away. It’s now my parents’ home.

I like to call the place where I stay home, no matter if it’s my parents’ house, an apartment in Iowa City, a hostel in Taiwan, or a rented room in Beijing, as long as I am with myself. If there is a kitchen, it’s an even better home. I don’t need a temporary residence permit, a household registration book, a green card or a passport to remind me where my home is.

At this point, my home is a comfy bedroom in central Beijing that I rented from a French guy who is back home for vacation, and a small kitchen that I share with 5 other people, which frustrates me a lot.

And I had friends over tonight just like what I always did in Iowa City.

My occasional homesickness was always specific about food, instead of "home."

My occasional homesickness was always specific about food, instead of “home.” (Photos by Siwen Wang and Alison Sullivan)


Introducing Tales from the Chinese Diaspora


Tales from the Chinese Diaspora is my work-in-progress honors project.

The theme of 留学——liuxue, or study abroad—was central to many of the stories I consumed while growing up in China in the 1990s. Fanciful tales of fiction, feature films and TV series and ostensibly true accounts in documentaries and memoirs alike planted in my mind all sorts of ideas about going to university in some peculiar foreign place. Thus, study abroad was an oddly familiar yet strange and exciting term to me, and not a reality until I came to experience it myself.

When I was younger, I saw study abroad as a mysterious privilege. This honored status went back to the 1870s, when the Qing Court sent 120 ordinary Chinese teen boys to the U.S. to learn Western skills; upon return, they were supposed to shoulder the responsibility of bringing the dying empire back to life. In the early 20th century, others subsidized by the government or by their affluent families carried on the tradition of going abroad and returning; many later became important figures in every field of modern Chinese life. Much later, in the early 1980s, those from well-connected families in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai began to find means to go abroad in a different sort of effort–to escape China’s seeming backwardness; and by the 1990s, the brightest students from top Chinese universities were leaving for graduate programs at prestigious Ivy League universities.

By the time I was preparing to go abroad for a college exchange year in 2011, study abroad was no longer a big deal. Pretty much everybody knew somebody studying in a foreign country. Now Chinese undergraduates, supported by parents of a rising middle class, were flooding into U.S. colleges, typically to burnish their credentials for a future career in business. After one term in the U.S., I decided to stay with the flood, and transferred from Arkansas to Iowa to complete my bachelor’s degree.

My project examines the varied results and repercussions of this influx of Chinese students to America, focusing mainly on the burgeoning population of Chinese undergraduates on the University of Iowa campus. Through a series of in-depth reports, I address issues of identity, freedom, the future plans of international students, the experiences of female students, the situation of wives of international students, and the misconceptions, misunderstandings, and structural and habitual barriers that tend to divide Chinese and U.S. students.

My TOEFL instructor back in Hangzhou, China, once commented that Chinese students going abroad these days are not as qualified as their predecessors. It used to be that only the brightest and best could study abroad—and only some of the best and brightest got the chance. Nowadays, it seems, anyone can manage to study abroad as long as family finances allow. Indeed, my generation of liuxuesheng – students studying abroad – has a somewhat shabby reputation. We are often seen as a spoiled group of fuerdai —rich baby boomers—living decadently off our newly affluent parents’ money.

In truth, the stereotype is just that – a gross and unfair overgeneralization. Today’s Chinese students abroad are far more diverse – economically, intellectually, geographically and personally – than those who have come before.

Over the course of a year of interviewing my fellow Chinese students across majors and classes, I’ve found that many are conscientious and high achieving. Most care a great deal about getting a good education and doing well. And while some have conventional outlooks and ambitions, among others there is no lack of idealism, curiosity and critical thinking. Motivations for coming to the U.S. are varied: some are seeking personal freedom, some a better quality of education and hopes for more mobility, many a combination, and some don’t know. A lot come just because their parents want them to. Some are academically ill prepared; some are brilliant in all respects. Certainly, there is that minority who drive BMWs or Maseratis, those who collect Louis Vuitton satchels or Roger Vivier shoes, some spoiled ones who can’t cook or do their own laundry and have no idea what they are in school for; but most are modest strivers struggling to grow up in an unfamiliar environment, and each one is an individual.

Being at Iowa and reporting on my peers has impressed upon me anew that people are complex. A gal with a collection of luxury designer bags worth a year of tuition at the same time may be intelligent and even profound. A Chinese who never talks to Americans isn’t necessarily a loner or a dolt. An ultra-Americanized Chinese can still be friendly and compassionate toward compatriots. And for all our stereotypes about U.S. students, they are no less complicated. Domestic students may ignore international students out of fear or ignorance rather than snobbery. Some academically successful students are socially awkward. Some who seem stupid or lazy may just be insecure. Some who party and drink hard may study a lot, too.

Such human complexity compelled me to continue writing about people and doings on the Iowa campus. And I felt it was meaningful to record the experiences of Chinese students at this stage—with the prestige and economy of China clearly on the rise and the U.S. seemingly on the decline.

We are the generation who grew up as coastal metropolitans when Chinese economic growth was skyrocketing. Unlike our parents and grandparents, we haven’t experienced traumatic political and social movements nor suffered painful dislocations that lodge in our memories. We don’t have the strong sense of national and cultural identity that motivated our forbears, and our feelings of obligation and patriotism are far more subdued. We don’t have to worry about feeding ourselves; we take studying abroad, and much else, for granted. Our attitudes, ambitions, intentions and experiences are far different than those of our predecessors.

Still, we face some of the same issues that Chinese abroad always have: language hurdles, cultural differences, the difficulty of developing meaningful connections with the locals.. We struggle between the push of wanting to leave China and the pull of wishing to return; the U.S. is not home, yet our sentiments for China are receding.

Doing this project has enriched my college experience. It has enabled me to meet new people, to understand more about both Chinese and Americans, and to think through issues that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Most importantly, the more I wrote about Chinese students, the stronger my sense of mission grew. By the time I was working on the last article, my purpose wasn’t simply to tell a good story; I want to be a good journalist, brutally honest and self-critical, while also expressing the needs and defend the interests of the misunderstood, often neglected and sometimes mistreated Chinese student community.

The challenges and quandaries facing Chinese students at Iowa have many causes, of course, and solutions lie with all involved. I hope Chinese students in the future will arrive better prepared both mentally and academically to engage and enjoy college life and gain an education worth the money their parents pay. I hope U.S. students can become more curious and open-minded, taking advantage of the proliferating international resources and global connections all around them.

I hope this university—and others facing similar circumstances—will come to practice and exhibit genuine concern for its international students that goes far beyond the revenue they generate. I hope the institution can develop and provide many more meaningful opportunities for conscious cross-cultural interaction and growth among all students.

And I hope that a century or so hence – presuming climate change does not preclude descendants – our successors will find much to learn, enjoy and cherish in reading our stories.

 Special thanks to Professor Judy Polumbaum who helped shape the introduction with assiduous editing.

Job prospects for Korean students affects enrollment

This multimedia package showcases job prospects for Korean students, the slowing down Korean student enrollment trends, and the Korean students as a share among international students in the U.S.

Mina Jang’s interest in the Unites started early. She watched a TV show about American teenagers when in high school, and had since longed for coming here. Now a University of Iowa junior from Busan, South Korea, said she still has that curiosity of life in the U.S., and hoped to stay here after graduation.

When she started college, Jang said, she didn’t dare to think about working in the U.S.

“I always think I’m afraid of staying here or working here because of the English,” said the communications and marketing majors. “But that was really an excuse for myself. At least I’m going to try.”

Jang isn’t alone. Millions of other international students are concerned about jumping through language hurdles. A bigger concern, however, is to obtain a working visa after graduation.

Jiyeon Kang, a UI assistant professor of communication studies, who originally is from South Korea, said although many Korean students considered staying as an option after graduation, the job market is bleak—not many U.S. companies are willing to sponsor foreign students H-1B working visas on top of a harsh economy.

“So either they are on the job market really briefly,” she said. “Or after learning about their friend’s stories of how hard the job market is, they give up and then go back to Korea.”

Unedited original interview 

Every year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services randomly granted 65,000 H-1B working visas to foreign nationals with a college degree, and 20,000 to those with a master’s degree or higher in the U.S. USCIS announced that it had received about 172,500 H-1B petitions during this years filing period starting April 1. The majority of them won’t  get the visa that would allow them to legally stay in the States after graduation.

h-1b form


Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 9.45.21 AM

Just over 70,000 students from South Korea are enrolled at U.S. universities and colleges, according to the Open Doors report released by the Institute of International Education. They accounted for nearly 9 percent of international student population in the U.S. Many of them will have to return to their home country even if they wish to work in the U.S. due to visa regulations.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 9.20.38 PM

414 students from South Korea account for the second largest international student group at the UI. Nationally, Korean students do not share a big foreign student market. Click here to view the entire interactive map of Korean student as a share of all international students by state. 

Jang—who said she wishes to work in the strategic communication and marketing field in the U.S.—said the reason why she doesn’t want to return to South Korea is that Korean companies require a high GPA, without considering other experiences, but she didn’t think her GPA would meet their standards.

“But in the U.S., people [are] more focused on what I did outside of school,” said Jang, who gets involved in various student organizations and loves participating in cultural events. “I think that’s really good for me, because I don’t have a good GPA right now, like not bad, but not that good.”

When it comes to male Korean students, another issue comes up – almost all of them have to serve in the military for 21 to 24 months.

UI senior SangHun Yang said most of his friends chose to return to South Korea and serve the military after freshman year, and then come back to finish college, completing military services .

Unlike his friends, Yang chose a different path — he is leaving in May to serve the military with one more semester left. Yang said he was afraid that lots of things would change after two years of military service.

“I just wanted to keep studying when I wanted to study,” Yang said. He came to the U.S. six years ago. “So I stayed here.”

Unlike Mina, Yang said he doesn’t have a strong desire for either staying or returning—he is fine with either way.

“If I go back to Korea, because I speak English, there will be a big advantage for me,” the accounting major said. “Because most Korean companies want people who can speak English, so there will be a big advantage that could increase my salary a little bit.”

He also misses families and friends back in South Korea—the closeness between people. Even though he has been in the U.S. for six years, working in an English environment still “scares” him, he said.

But if given the chance, he would like to work in the U.S., because employees get better benefits here, for example, more vacations and more free time spent with family, he said.

“But back in Korea, it’s like working, working, working,” said Young, who likes taking road trips in the U.S. “They want workaholics, I think.”

The overall Korean student enrollment in the U.S. has declined since 2009, partly because of their limited job prospects here, Kang said.

More importantly, she added, the Koreans have slowly demystified studying abroad after the first wave of Korean undergrads returned to Korea around 2009.

“In contrast to their initial expectations, they realized that a university degree in the U.S. does not grantee a successful job,” said Kang, who has been in the U.S. for 13 years.

Because Koreans have realized that this group of people doesn’t usually fit into the traditional Korean cooperated culture, and that they aren’t necessarily more creative and successful than domestic students, she added.

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More infographic about Korean student enrollment trends here.


From Michelle Obama’s China Tour to Sweet and Sour Chicken

Michelle Obama recently traveled to China to promote educational exchanges.

On Weibo, the most popular Chinese social media platform, Obama’s outfits, places  she visited, interaction that she had with China’s first lady Peng Liyuan, were the most talked-about topics. Had I not been studying abroad in the U.S., I would  have been more interested in those lighthearted topics.

This time, I rather paid more attention to the real purpose of the trip. Obama called on U.S. students to study abroad in China, learn Chinese, connect to people there and understand more about Chinese culture. The message behind her calling must have a broader meaning — China is on the rise, and it’s important for the U.S. to learn about the country, its people and culture.

However, from a Chinese student’ point of view, it will be helpful for a better campus climate for international students at U.S. universities. More American students going to China means more cross-cultural understanding. After they return to the U.S., they are going to be more globally-minded and have a better sense of cultural awareness, which will improve future interaction between U.S. and international students.

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1,351 University of Iowa students study abroad during academic year 2011/12, according to the UI Study Abroad Statistics. Italy and Spain were the most popular destinations among undergrads. Only 3 percent studied abroad in China. With a large number of international students from China, while few U.S. students going to China, the educational exchange here is unbalanced.

There are of course some Chinese students who come to the U.S. just for a degree, not trying to learn about American culture. But most are trying hard to succeed academically and culturally. They come to this country half-way across the globe, at least stepped out with some degree of curiosity to explore.

It would be great if more U.S. students study in China in the future, so that when they come back, they would at least know that Sweet and Sour Chicken isn’t Chinese food.

UI International Enrollment and Study Abroad Stats Reflect A National Trend

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International student enrollment across the country has grown rapidly since 2006. The University of Iowa is no exception. The sudden growth of international students from East, Southeast and South Asia started the same year at the UI.

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As of fall 2013, more than half of the international students enrolled at the UI are from People’s Republic of China. Nationally, 40 percent of foreign students are from China, India and South Korea.

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In the meanwhile, Europe is the most popular destination for U.S. students to study abroad. 43 percent of UI study-abroad students went to Italy, Spain, United Kingdom and France during the academic year 2011-12. European countries hosted 44 percent of U.S. students last year. Not many U.S. students chose to study abroad in Asia.

More infographics on international student enrollment and study abroad statistics here.

UI Painting Major’s B.F.A show depicted life of Chinese students

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Mohan Liu‘s graduation exhibition was the most casual, playful and fun I have seen among B.F.A shows.

The theme of her show was Chinese students’ life in Iowa. She placed 13 paintings of Chinese students in mundane life in a huge bubble chat box against a black wall. In front of the main wall placed empty wine and alcohol bottles, which stands for her hobby.

Mohan’s exhibition was held last week. Everyday, she went to the Ark Gallery in Studio Arts Building where her show was, writing notes around the paintings, remembering her college life in both Chinese and English. Visitors and her friends also left comments on the wall instead of in a notebook.

Her painting instructors commented that the notes and chats boxes would took people’s attestation away from her works, but clearly everybody who attended the closing reception Friday loved them. Around 80 people went to the reception with flowers, food, gifts and hugs for Liu. American people didn’t read the Chinese comments, so Chinese students around translated for them.

The most striking note to me was the one that Liu wrote herself:

感谢我的大学生活。它让我学会了:做饭、独处、承受寂寞、一五二十、木匠、电焊、用英语骂人、疯狂购物、交朋友、玩骰子、狠心、坚强 & 舍不得。 Thanks to my college life. It enabled me to learn how to cook, stay alone, bear loneliness, be a carpenter, be a welder, curse in English, shop crazily, make friends, play dice games, be heartless, be tough. And I don’t want to leave college.

It was so sentimental. And I can relate to that very well indeed.

Thanks to Xinran Gu for allowing me to use three photos her took at the reception.