Far from home: International education on rise

Credit: Photo illustration by Adelaide Cole Credit: Photo illustration by Adelaide Cole

Despite the high costs of a U.S. education, more international students are enrolling at North American colleges. According to a recent article in the U.S. News & World Report, the number of international students enrolling in the 2012–13 school year increased 5.7 percent over the 2011–12 enrollment, with the majority of international students coming from Asia.

Carnegie Mellon is no stranger to international students. More than 20 percent of its student body is from another country, and the university has a dedicated Department of International Education to assist with financial aid, English skills, and career options after graduation.

Senior business administration major Parikshit Mistry from India said that he decided to travel overseas for his education for the career prospects. “Just saying that you got a degree from an American college opens up so many job opportunities back home in India,” Mistry said. “I want to work in the United States when I graduate, but I might want to return to India later.”

Mistry said his biggest challenge adapting to a U.S. college experience was learning to work under a much more hands-off system of teaching.

“In India, the teachers really prod you to do well, and they’ll let you know if you aren’t doing well.... The professors here don’t really do that, and it’s more up to the students to make sure they learn the material,” he said. “It took some time getting used to, especially during my freshmen courses.”

While Mistry said that he is fortunate to come from a family that can pay out of pocket for his education overseas, not all international students have this luxury. So rather than pay out of pocket, sophomore electrical and computer engineering major Chin Yang from Singapore is instead participating in a scholarship program offered by his government. “[The government] is paying for my education and travel,” Yang said.

In exchange for the scholarship, the government requires a high level of academic performance from him. “I have to keep my GPA above a 3.75... and my scholarship requires that I complete a master’s degree in computer science in four years. It means I need to graduate in three [years],” Yang said. “I also have a six-year bond. After I graduate, I need to work for [the government] for six years.”

Like Mistry, Yang has not had much of a problem adapting to American culture. “I’m sure there are a lot of cultural differences, but I haven’t really noticed many of them,” Yang said. “I have an accent, so sometimes I have to repeat myself when talking to new people, but people who get to know me can understand me.”

According to Yang, the Singaporean students on campus are a particularly close-knit group.

“We all know each other because it’s such a small community, and most of us are under the same scholarship program,” he said.

Yang said that he met up with his Singaporean friends almost every day during his first year.

“There’s also the Singaporean Student Association on campus.... Most of us come to the meetings and events,” he said.

However, Yang said that Singaporeans never become very invested in cultural events and activities because of the level of academic performance they are expected to achieve.

Carnegie Mellon also hosts several foreign exchange students, including junior computer science major Syed Moosavi from Carnegie Mellon’s Qatar campus.

“It’s a semester-long program where instead of taking courses at Qatar, we take our courses in Pittsburgh,” said Moosavi, who is originally from India. “The computer science department sends two to three students every year to Pittsburgh.”

Moosavi’s biggest challenges adapting to the U.S. involved just getting around the city. “I’ve had a problem definitely understanding how things work here; the bus system, groceries, buying a ticket,” Moosavi said.
“[In Qatar], everything is centrally located in a big shopping complex,” he added.

However, Moosavi made a point of arriving in Pittsburgh during the summer so he could figure out these logistical issues before the semester started, and since then, he said he hasn’t run into any problems.

“I have an accent, but people can understand me.... It’s been easy for me to meet new people, and everyone is nice,” he said.