One Student Body
Ten months ago, Jean Zagre left the small West African country of Burkina Faso to travel more than 5,000 miles to his new home at Georgia Southern University. “My flight to Savannah was the first time that I had touched United States soil,” Zagre said as he explained that he always dreamed of studying in the U.S. because it is still “a country of opportunities.”
“When I was a 10-year-old I told my mom I would continue my studies in the U.S., but she said ‘never’ because she was worried about my security. After many discussions she finally accepted my decision.” Zagre is a student in the English Language Program (ELP) and chose Georgia Southern after International Student Admissions Assistant Director Ron Jones visited his school in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.
“Eighteen new Burkina students have enrolled at Georgia Southern as a result of that trip and we currently have the third highest population of Burkina students of any university in the United States,” said Jones. While the University’s variety of academic programs, diverse student population and campus safety initially attract most international students, Jones said the University’s student-centered approach is what sets Georgia Southern apart from other universities.
“International students are usually not able to visit campus before enrolling and are applying to universities across the nation,” he said. “Being personable, friendly and responsive to email and phone calls are especially important for this group. The students and their parents tell me continually that they selected Georgia Southern over other universities because of how friendly everyone was through the enrollment process—from admissions to housing, from the Center for International Studies to orientation, from Health Services to academic departments.”
As a member of the University’s growing international community, Zagre is just one of the bright and curious scholars who has added an extra dimension to Georgia Southern by infusing the campus with his own cultures, traditions, native languages, and political and religious views. These students originate from 89 countries with Nigeria, China and Honduras representing the top three. In May, Honduras native Juan Diego Guevara Pinto graduated at the top of the Class of 2014 with a GPA of 4.0. “I have come a long way,” said Guevara who was presented with the Georgia Southern University Alumni Association Award at the Honors Day Convocation in April. “When I first arrived here, I could barely speak English, and I was very scared. Honduras is a very poor country, and I realized I had been given an amazing opportunity to study here. That motivated me, and I didn’t want to let my family and country down.”
Guevara and new graduate Keturah Bowe from Freeport, Bahamas, served as international ambassadors, a role that allowed them to recruit international students to represent the international student community and be involved in campus life. “I think the ‘large-scale, small feel’ environment is a good transition for students who want to study in the United States,” added Bowe, who noted that international students are driven to succeed academically because they understand how much their families have sacrificed for them to attend such a prestigious American university and receive an outstanding education.
International scholars who enroll at Georgia Southern can face financial challenges. Between tuition, books, room and board, and travel, a full academic year can easily reach $33,000. “As international students, they do not qualify for federal or state financial aid (including loans), so most of the educational costs are borne by each student’s extended families,” said Jones. “Many of our students come from developing countries, where the average annual income is often less than $1,000 per year.”
Students from other countries sometimes qualify for merit and need-based scholarships or find on-campus jobs in order to pay their own way. There are more than 30 students on campus from Saudi Arabia alone, but the Center for International Studies said the Saudi government supports most of them. For Rakhi Trivedi, a graduate student in the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health, coming to Georgia Southern is possible through a graduate assistantship. She has been at the University for nearly a year and is planning her first visit back home to Sagar, India, this summer. “My parents are helping me pay my tuition fees and the graduate assistantship is a great help for my monthly living expenses,” said Trivedi.
The public health major remembered how happy she was to reach Georgia Southern after a 36-hour flight that landed in Atlanta. “There is no traffic in Statesboro and I like it here because it is calm. There is no pollution and this area is a better fit for me.”
If Trivedi, Zagre and other international students, have any complaints about their life in Statesboro, it would be the lack of public transportation. “We are doing our utmost to address that need among our students,” said Jacek Lubecki, Ph.D., the director of the Center for International Studies. “We do have transportation for the students on campus and most importantly, we rely on volunteer organizations such as the Wesley Foundation and Baptist Collegiate Ministries to provide them with free transportation to Walmart every week.”
College of Business Administration graduate student Shu Dong is from China and has enjoyed living in the U.S. ever since she was an exchange student in Pennsylvania. “I found out about Georgia Southern because it has an exchange program with my university in China… life in the United States is very, very different. Being here has definitely made me more open-minded,” said Shu who has earned a master’s degree in higher education and is pursuing a Master of Accountancy with a forensics concentration. “I’ve learned I like all kinds of food. I like fried chicken and I love Mexican food, which we don’t have in China.”
While missing her native food has not been a problem for Shu, other international students say food and their families are what they miss most about being so far from home. “I am vegetarian,” said Indian born Trivedi who depends on friends to take her to Savannah to shop for the vegetables and spices she craves. “International students tend to be highly motivated and independent,” said Jones. He added, “You would have to be to leave your family and friends behind to study in a new country in a language that is often your second or third language.”
The first year is often the hardest for many of the students as they struggle with homesickness, the language barrier, cultural obstacles and making friends outside of their own nationality. “Things we take for granted can challenge our students,” said Jeffrey Palis, the associate director of the Center for International Studies. “Little things that we forget about are classroom management, how courses are graded, how students are expected to participate and speak up in class… in some cultures that is not common.”
Still, most agree they have been impressed with how friendly and helpful people are in Statesboro. In the months before they arrive, Academic Coordinator Kelley Riffe provides assistance with documents, immigration and visa regulations. “It’s a source of pride that among the thousands of colleges and universities around the world they wanted to come here,” Riffe said.
To help address international student concerns and challenges, the Center for International Studies operates programs such as the Cross Cultural Friendship Program, the Global Ambassadors Program, International Club, the annual International Festival and the International Conversation Hour, which allows time for American and international students to meet and talk about their collegiate and overall life experiences. “I have developed into a more independent, responsible and well-rounded individual since living in the U.S.,” said Bowe of the Bahamas.
Most of Georgia Southern’s international scholars are degree-seeking students, but this is not always the case. “There are ELP students who first arrive to improve their English speaking skills then move into a degree program,” said Palis. “There are both undergraduate and graduate students who come for their degree, and exchange students who enroll in one of our various exchange partnerships around the world and spend one or two semesters with us.”
“We often think we bring international students here to teach them,” said Palis. “The truth is, they teach us. They create this diversity of experience, of opinion, and bring their previous academic background into the classroom to make it a much more engaging and interesting place.”
After all, we are one world, all connected through our collective experiences—80-plus countries living together as one. Look around our Statesboro campus today and you soon realize that Georgia Southern University may be a multitude of countries and cultures but if you open your minds and hearts, we are all part of the same proud student body. “To say that everything has been easy would be a lie,” said Zagre who has a cousin in the English Language Program. “At first, we spent all our days thinking about back home. Then we agreed, we chose this life so we have to live it.”
Commencement is a testament to that. There are no countries of origin on Georgia Southern diplomas, just the names of each Eagle student and their degree. It’s just another symbol of their added dedication and the unique sacrifices it took to achieve their educational goals, no matter the distance they traveled in order to walk across the graduation stage. – Sandra Bennett
See below for a complete list of countries represented on campus:
|Bermuda||Dominican Republic||Honduras||Lebanon||Portugal||United States
|Bulgaria||El Salvador||Indonesia||Lithuania||South Africa||Vietnam|
How would you like to “adopt” an international student? The International Extended Families Program (IEF) connects local families to international students at Georgia Southern so they can see what American family life is like. Your international student will spend occasional time with you and your family participating in activities such as going to the movies, shopping, dining out, cooking a meal together, traveling out of town, enjoying day trips to the beach, or going to a sporting event. If you are interested in becoming a “host” family to an international student, visit International Extended Families.
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