Lehigh prides itself on being a diverse campus, and since 2007, the university’s number of international students has doubled, with almost 10 percent of the class of 2017 being international students.
The Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) currently has 1,263 international students and 139 scholars.
According to Gang Wang, director of the OISS, Lehigh makes little to no effort to recruit international graduate students, but rather focuses its efforts on undergraduates. Wang mentioned how graduate students hear of Lehigh usually by word of mouth from friends or online.
In China, there are many agencies that recruit students, and these agencies then introduce and recommend Lehigh to potential students. In particular, the accounting and analytical finance programs have a very strong reputation in China, so many students from China come for these specific areas of study. Wang reported that huge numbers of students pursuing degrees in analytical finance here at Lehigh are in fact international students from China.
“There are many different ways that we go about recruiting the best and brightest international students from across the globe; it is truly a collaborative effort across campus and alumni overseas,” said Morgan Volkart, director of international recruitment. “There are two of us in the Admissions Office who travel internationally to recruit students by visiting high schools, attending college fairs, giving workshops, presentations, conducting interviews and collaborating with EducationUSA and US Embassy offices overseas.”
Volkart also said that there are several admissions counselors who recruit international students at U.S. high schools, indicating that international students coming to the U.S. for high school is a growing trend.
According to Volkart, there are now 64 different countries represented among the undergraduate international students, and every year the numbers continue to increase.
“Most incoming international students are here for a full four-year degree at the undergraduate level or for a full masters or doctorate degree at the graduate level,” Volkart said. “There is a small percentage of undergraduate and graduate students who come on exchange or short-term programs for a semester or year.
“There are also some high school students who come from abroad to participate in the Pennsylvania Global Entrepreneurship Program over the summer between their junior and senior year. Many of these students will decide to apply for undergrad at Lehigh because of the fantastic experience they have during the summer getting a taste of Lehigh.”
International students coming to study at Lehigh have a number of different ways to do so. There are degree students, exchange students and Fulbright students. Degree students come for their entire degree, where exchange students usually come for a semester, and sometimes a full year. Fulbright students are mainly able to come here because their own government sponsors them, but occasionally some are sponsored by the U.S. State Department.
Lehigh has both international students and scholars. Scholars have the opportunity to research or teach, but their Visas do not allow them to enroll in undergraduate courses because this would be a violation of their Visa status. Very few are sponsored to come here by Lehigh; most sponsorship comes from their own governments. Wang mentioned how this fall semester there are two Fulbright scholars here at Lehigh, one teaching Russian and the other teaching French.
One international student, Ko Yazaki, ’14 ’15G, is one of two international students from Japan.
“In my opinion, there is more emphasis in America to grow socially than in my home country,” he said of his experience. “I think it is less academically rigorous, but it compensates by helping students grow in other areas of their life.”
Yazaki talked about how attending boarding school in Connecticut for high school made it easier for him to acclimate to the unique Lehigh culture.
“One thing that I love about the Lehigh community is that there are so many different groups, clubs and people,” he said. “There are so many that you can’t possibly experience or meet them all, but it’s fun to try.”
Yazaki heard about Lehigh through his college counselor as well as some of his friends who were already attending the university. Yazaki mentioned how “the academic opportunities in the United States and in Japan are fairly comparable, but in the United States there is much more flexibility in terms of the courses, majors and disciplines that you want to pursue.” It was for this very reason that he decided to come to Lehigh instead of returning back to Japan to earn his college degree.
“I wanted to go to college in the United States in part because of the ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality that a lot of top tier colleges like Lehigh University embody,” Yazaki said. “After watching the movie ‘Animal House’ in high school, I wanted to experience the same level of fun/insanity while still focusing on my future.”
Irene Villafane, ’17, is from Barcelona, Spain.
“Studying in America is more practical based, and less theoretical,” Villafane said. “There are smaller classrooms, and the teachers are not aiming to fail you. School is so expensive that they [professors]are here to teach you the material, instead of having only the smartest students pass the class. At home it is more usual to fail a class.”
Villafane said academic opportunities differ from those in Spain in that here you can take classes across departments.
“In Spain, you’re only allowed to take classes in your major,” she said. “Here, there (are) more opportunities to study abroad, intern and do research.”
Villafane has become fully immersed in the student culture here at Lehigh. She has joined a sorority and has an executive position as a project manager for Bridges to Prosperity Going to college abroad has helped her “to grow as a person, to be able to understand and live in a different culture,” she said.
In addition, Villafane said living in the States has also helped her grow confidence, and she notices how much more independent she has become.