Qiushi Yang has gotten accustomed to the American classroom — how fast the professors speak, how they expect students to talk, too. He speaks fluent English, having read a novel a week when he first came to the U.S. Like many college students, he plans to get an internship after he graduates from California Lutheran University.
But then he plans to go home to China, where that internship will give him an edge in getting a job.
"If you have an internship on American land, that's considered a high level of education," Yang said. "China sees an American degree as indicative of higher skills."
Yang, 21, is among a growing number of international students at CLU. The Thousand Oaks university has 462 international students, up 40 percent from a year ago. That means one in nine CLU students is a citizen of another country. Most of them are graduate students, but some are undergraduates. They're coming here because they believe a U.S. education will give them an edge, students and college officials said.
"American education is very highly valued around the world," said Tom Hoener, assistant vice president for enrollment management at CLU. "China, for example, has a rising middle class. ... The world is becoming more connected."
CLU's growing diversity reflects a national trend of more international students coming to the U.S. for college and graduate school — an increase of 6 percent last year to 764,321, according to the Institute of International Education. More than one-quarter of those students come from China. About 13 percent come from India and 5 percent from Saudi Arabia.
Many of CLU's international students also come from Asia and the Middle East, said Michael Elgarico, director of undergraduate admissions. In addition, Norway is "well-represented," although it is not among the top 25 countries sending students to the U.S.
"We are off Olsen Road," Elgarico said. "That resonates with people. We still retain very much a Lutheran identity."
CLU recruits students from abroad, primarily in Asia, Hoener said. Admissions officials participate in college fairs and talk to counselors and students, he said.
"We've been pretty aggressive," Hoener said. "Last month, I was in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam for a few days."
For students who are not fluent in English, CLU has an English school on campus which students can attend, then start college classes when they're ready.
Becoming comfortable with English, especially idiomatic expressions, is just one adjustment students make when they come to the U.S. to study, said Juanita Hall, CLU's senior director of multicultural and international programs. Students also have to adjust to a different approach to teaching, the informality of California culture and U.S. bureaucracy. But one of the toughest adjustments can be food, she said.
"When you're used to having a certain kind of diet, you realize how important food is to you — how important that it be familiar and comfortable," Hall said.
Yang has dealt with the food issue by periodically cooking Chinese dinners for friends on Saturday nights using his grandmother's recipes. U.S. classrooms also took some getting accustomed to: In China, teachers lecture and students listen, he said.
"Chinese education is not good for the open-minded thing," he said. "There's a lot of homework, a lot of practice. No calculators are allowed."
Yasser Faqih started at the English school before enrolling in CLU's graduate program in computer science. Faqih, 29, came to the U.S. after getting a government scholarship in his native Saudi Arabia. Two months after they arrived here, he and his wife had their first child.
"It's a challenge when you're far away," he said. "It's a new life, a new language. We went through that, and you can say we passed it."
CLU also draws students from Scandinavia.
Caroline Rosen, 19, from Norway, is studying business administration. Like Yang, she thinks being fluent in English will be an advantage in her career. She also finds going to school with other Norwegians reassuring. She doesn't know whether she'll return to Norway when she graduates, but she's enjoying what she says is an increasingly international atmosphere on campus.
"I don't think a lot of people know that Cal Lutheran is an international school," she said. "We meet people from all around the world, as well as all the Americans."
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Home: Medina, Saudi Arabia
Studying: Computer science (graduate student)
Why he's studying at CLU: "A lot of my relatives studied here (in the U.S.) 20 years ago, 30 years ago. I know it's a very good opportunity, especially if we have a full-paid scholarship from the government."
After graduation: "I think I have to go back. My country paid for me, and I have to serve my country."
Home: Gjovik, Norway
Major: Business administration (undergraduate)
Why she's studying at CLU: "I was looking for business departments, and I heard Cal Lutheran had business. I also heard there were a lot of Norwegians here."
After graduation: "I have no idea. I want to finish my MBA as well."
Studying: Accounting (undergraduate)
Why he's studying at CLU: "One of my dad's friends, she knew the school. She said it was a small campus, that the professors do the teaching, not the T.A. I really wanted a small campus. The professors can give you more attention."
After graduation: "I want to pass the CPA exam, do an internship, then go back to China. Home is still home."
--- Published in the Ventura County Star on Nov. 25, 2012