In a few months, Luan will begin classes at the University of Oklahoma's College of Architecture. But for now, he's working on his English.
Luan came to OU from his native Rio de Janeiro in August. This semester, he's one of 36 students from Brazil studying at OU's English as a Second Language program. Luan, who, like many Brazilians, only goes by one name, is one of a growing number of college students from the South American nation who are coming to Oklahoma universities.
Universities in Oklahoma and nationwide are increasingly looking to Brazil as an important source of international students — and the tuition dollars they bring with them — due in part to a program that offers Brazilian students scholarships to study in the United States.
Once he completes the English language program, Luan, whose full name is Luan Vinicius Juliao das Virgens, plans to study at OU for a year. Then, he will return to Brazil to complete his degree there.
Studying in the United States gives him a different perspective than the one he gets from his university in Brazil, he said, and it gives him a chance to learn about a culture other than his own. That experience will be an asset for the rest of his career, he said.
The Brazilian government launched the Scientific Mobility Program in July 2011 with the goal of strengthening the nation's training in fields related to science, technology, engineering and math. The program gives scholarships to Brazilian undergraduates to spend a year studying at universities in the United States. The students then return to Brazil to complete their degrees.
Brazil has frequently been mentioned as a part of a group of countries collectively known as BRIC — Brazil, Russia, India and China — which economists see as emerging economic powers. That economic status also makes the country an attractive area for college recruiters.
Matt Hamilton, OU's registrar and vice president for enrollment and student financial services, said the scholarship program has made a major difference for OU. The university has sent recruiters to Brazil for the past two years, he said, and the university is seeing “a general increase in activity and interest.”
“It is a fertile recruitment area which combines very capable students who want to study in the United States with an emerging economy and Brazilian government support,” he said.
Dennis Dunham, director of the University of Central Oklahoma's Office of Global Affairs, said UCO is also stepping up recruitment in Brazil.
The Brazilian government's scholarship program has had less of an impact at UCO because of the limited number of scholarships available, Dunham said. UCO doesn't have any Scientific Mobility Program students on campus this semester.
Still, Dunham said, Brazil's robust economy means many students there have the means to come to the United States for college.
International students aren't eligible for federal financial aid, and they typically don't receive any aid from universities. So when Brazilian students — or any other international students — come to UCO, the university collects the full price for out-of-state tuition.
“It is a financial asset to the university,” Dunham said.
International students also help enhance the diversity on campus, Dunham said. Each group of students brings along certain culture and traditions from their home countries. That commingling of cultures allows American students to get an idea of what life is like in other countries, even if they aren't able to study abroad themselves, he said.
Jennifer Kenyon, assistant director of international admissions at Oklahoma City University, said OCU is also looking to get involved in the Science Mobility Program. The university sends recruiters to meet with high school students in Brazil, and the university has launched email campaigns, she said.
OCU began recruiting heavily in Brazil last year. International recruiting efforts generally take two or three years to pay off, but Kenyon, who recently returned from a recruiting trip to Brazil, said she's beginning to see signs of increased interest.
Besides the tuition dollars they bring, Brazilian students also bring a new cultural dynamic to campus. The largest share of OCU's international students comes from China and India, Kenyon said. Having more Brazilian students on campus could expose OCU students to another culture that they haven't seen before.
“Brazilian students are a little unique,” she said. “They bring a fun diversity that a lot of schools encourage and like to have.”
Brazilian students are a little unique. They bring a fun diversity that a lot of schools encourage and like to have.”
Assistant director of international admissions at Oklahoma City University