Enrollment is changing at the University of Montana, and students are feeling its effects — the student population is beginning to take on a new look in nationality.
A record number of foreign students from 72 countries around the world are walking the halls at UM this semester. The Office of Planning, Budgeting and Analysis reported a 32 percent increase since last fall, with 130 more foreign exchange students at the University.
“I am very happy with my choice of UM, but to be honest, I was so surprised on my arrival — I thought it would be more like New York,” said Ruriko Ebara, a freshmen at the University of Montana.
Ebara is from Tokyo and plans to graduate from UM with a degree in communications. She first heard about the University from her high school, which connects students to UM and other U.S. colleges.
“I think country people are so nice, compared to city people,” Ebara said.
To Ebara’s left stood Kazusa Suzuki, a senior at the UM studying sociology from Sendai, Japan. A professor recommended Suzuki study at UM four years ago. She looked at a few pictures of campus and decided with her mom that Montana probably didn’t fit the “gun-shooting image of America” they had.
“From the plane, I only saw mountains, countryside and no buildings,” Suzuki said. “I was like, ‘Oh my, where am I arriving?’”
Peter Baker, the international program development officer, said one of the inevitable questions asked when talking to possible foreign students is, “Where in Canada is that?” Missoula doesn’t stick out as the premier place for foreign students, he said.
“We have to demystify what it means to be in Montana and show that it is a progressive, safe state,” Baker said.
On average, tuition and room and board estimates for foreign exchange students during the 2013-2014 academic year are around $32,000 compared to in-state students, who will spend around $29,000.
From the 2010-2011 academic school year to the 2011-2012 school year, study abroad students in America increased by 5 percent, according to the Institute of International Education.
The University’s increased recruiting efforts in recent years are one reason international students are flocking to UM, Baker said.
The University also has a tailored short-term English prep program that attracts international students, he said.
UM also goes through the process of applying to host foreign exchange students and programs, Baker said. For example, the first group of foreign exchange students from Brazil’s Scientific Mobility Program arrived at UM this semester, totaling 28 new students.
The University also has to prove they have a system that can support foreign students once they are at UM, Baker said.
Abdullah Aljamea first heard about UM through the King Abdullah scholarship program, which offers students from Saudi Arabia the chance to study in the U.S. When he chose Montana, Aljamea said he wasn’t even sure where it was.
“After I came, I was shocked, because my impression was it was going to be a big city,” Aljamea said. “It was a bummer.”
The weather has been an adjustment, but his view on Montana has improved. As part of his program, Aljamea has the opportunity to travel across the state, and after seeing a myriad of places, he has begun to believe Montana was the right choice — where the Americans are “the nicest.”
“If I could go back in time, I would still choose the University of Montana,” Aljamea said. “No regrets.”