A growing number of international students who arrived on the East and West Coasts are making their way inland to study in Oklahoma.
Officials with Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma expect each campus will have about 2,000 students from other countries for the fall semester, which begins Monday.
Cost is a big factor, said Tim Huff, manager of international students and scholars at OSU.
“We’re extremely competitive,” Huff said.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranks Oklahoma higher education No. 7 in affordability.
Huff said scholars from abroad make up about 3 percent of the student population at public colleges and universities nationally.
“We run closer to 8 to 9 percent,” he said.
India sent the most students to OSU last fall — 500 plus — and most of them were graduate students in engineering, computer science, management of information services and other technical fields, Huff said.
China came in second with mostly undergraduates in a variety of fields, including hotel/restaurant management, agriculture, engineering and business.
“We have above 400 Chinese students this year,” said Huff, noting China sends the most scholars to the U.S.
That’s true at OU, where 610 of the 1,778 international students last spring were Chinese, said Robyn Rojas, director of international student services.
Saudi Arabia had the second largest number of students, many who came to study petroleum engineering, Rojas said.
Both campuses have students from more than 100 countries, with the four biggest populations coming from India, China, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.
The numbers are growing steadily at OU, which is in the third year of a strategic recruiting plan for international students, Rojas said.
“A lot of students stay here and start a new degree. They come for a bachelor’s and stay for a master’s,” she said.
Another reason OSU has been successful in attracting student from abroad is “a great international reputation,” Huff said. “We have alums all over the world.”
Adjusting to campus life
Once international students arrive, OU and OSU offer a variety of services and programs to greet them and help them adjust to campus life.
“The people are so welcoming,” said Jean-Philippe Gorrut, one of a group of students from Clermont-Ferrand, France, newly arrived at OU. Their school at home requires students to spend one semester abroad.
“My first choice was OU and I was taken in, so I’m so glad to be here,” his classmate, Angeline Maridet, said. “It’s such a huge experience for us. It’s really great.”
OU was recommended to the group by other students who attended previously. “They told us, ‘you have to go there. You won’t regret it.’ So we had some good advice,” Maridet said.
Since the 1980s, OSU has welcomed international students at the airport in Oklahoma City.
Today the service employs bilingual veteran international students as greeters for the new arrivals, who are taken from the airport to Stillwater in Airport Express vans, Huff said.
“If they come from the Middle East or Asia, they’ve been flying in excess of 24 hours to put them in Oklahoma City,” he said. “We try to make it as easy as possible so they don’t have to make decisions and they don’t have to handle money.”
Over the years, several of those students have then become airport greeters, Huff said.
OU launched an airport greeter service last spring. Student employees and campus staff, many from the College of International Studies, offer arriving students a snack, water, an OU T-shirt and orientation information before accompanying them to Norman, said Tracy Shaw, international intern coordinator.
“I saw a lot of them wearing their T-shirts at orientation and at check-in,” Shaw said.
Another program OU began last year is the International Student Speakers Bureau, which lets students talk about their countries to groups in the community and at schools.
“They get to share their culture and they get involved with the community members,” Shaw said. “And they sometimes even get to see different parts of Oklahoma because they get to go to a small town or into Oklahoma City.”
A valuable connection
Both universities have a residential floor that pairs international students with American classmates.
Huff said American students who ask for a foreign roommate often plan to study abroad or are interested in learning about another culture.
When students around the world come to Oklahoma, it adds immeasurably to the academic experience of American students, officials at both schools said.
“These kids are an excellent connection for us for the future,” Huff said. “The average GPA is higher for international students even though they are studying in a second language.”
They get to share their culture and they get involved with the community members. And they sometimes even get to see different parts of Oklahoma because they get to go to a small town or into Oklahoma City.”International intern coordinator at OU