February 13, 2015
The University of Idaho has long been an international institution. Since its founding, the university has provided students from beyond our shores with a first-class education. In turn, international students bring new perspectives, cultural traditions and opportunities for engagement to the university community.
Mary Beth and I have recently joined others in Moscow in the “Friendship Families”
program — organized by the International Programs Office — which connects international students and scholars with local families. We’ve gotten to know three students through this unique program. Marcelline, or “Alex,” is from France, by way of Sweden, and is studying marketing and entrepreneurship. Another student, Gayelle, is from Burkina Faso, and is studying architecture. Last but not least, Pavan hails from India, and is doing graduate work in electrical engineering.
These students are having life-changing experiences at the University of Idaho, in everything from food to academics to recreational opportunities. Cuisine, of course, is a ready entry point into any culture, and one of the ways Mary Beth and I are coming together with our students is through sharing meals. Recently, a dinner of lentil soup and biscuits, conventional in the U.S. but unusual for our students, proved a great way to bond. In addition to new foods, our international students have made many adjustments, including a rigorous academic program, new friends, and even new patterns of daylight and nighttime for our close-to-the-equator students. We all enjoyed getting to know each other, even introducing two of our students to the game of pool.
These one-on-one relationships make a big difference for generating understanding between people and helping students feel at home. Scaled up, these relationships help a cohort of students make the most of their time at the University of Idaho, and are a boon to the internationalization of our campus.
In fall 2014, students at UI came from no fewer than 86 countries, all 50 states and Washington D.C., and several U.S. territories. A full 5 percent of undergraduates and 10 percent of graduate students come from abroad — a substantial international presence. However, we view that as a starting point, and continue to seek more international students at UI, as well as more opportunities for scholarship and research abroad for our American students
. Our university is affiliated with more than 370 universities in 69 countries, including 29 partnership universities. Thanks in some measure to a unique student-fee-funded scholarship, more than 15 percent of UI students graduate with study abroad experience. Study abroad and friendship families have been on our mind because our daughter, Rae, is spending winter quarter in Florence, Italy, studying Italian, art history and cooking. Her host family has welcomed her and enriched her experience tremendously. We will visit Italy in mid-March, meet them, and share Italy with Rae.
The diversity that internationalization brings is not just a benefit to our international students, but to our entire campus community. Learning from each other means understanding the rest of the world. Innovative ideas don’t stop at our nation’s borders, nor do opportunities for collaboration … and competition. To thrive in today’s global economic landscape, students from abroad and from the U.S. need to interact with and learn from each other.
We’re looking forward to continuing to get to know our students in the months to come. And our university will continue to make progress in recruiting international students and connecting U.S. students with life-changing experiences abroad. For 125 years we have been Idaho’s leading national research university, and will continue taking a leadership role on the global stage.