International students weighing their welcome

Edward Tang, junior managerial economics major, was born in Yan`an, China, and came to Kent in January 2010. He is heavily involved in the International Peers Association, International Mentors and the College Democrats. 

Rachel Jones

Last spring, Edward Tang left his home in Southeast China to study managerial economics at Kent State.

Like most international students, Tang made his decision based on what his friends said about the university.

“I heard it was a friendly and good school with a good (business) program,” Tang said.

David DiMaria, director of international recruitment, admissions and advising at the Office of Global Education at Kent State, said 50 percent of international students choose Kent State based on recommendations from friends.

This information came from the International Student Barometer, a student survey conducted by a research group in the United Kingdom. Kent State, along with 203 other universities across the globe, has participated annually for the past three years.

“We do it to compare Kent State to other universities and see where we compare globally,” DiMaria said. “It finds our strengths and weaknesses and helps us plan for next year.”

The most recent barometer measured everything from how students are received upon arriving on campus to the transportation system. The former has received praise, while the latter remains an area of dissatisfaction.

And with 1,861 international students from 99 countries and territories attending Kent State this semester — a 35 percent increase from last year — the Office of Global Education has a lot of areas to perfect and students to please.

Because students in previous years ranked their welcoming to the university relatively low, the Office of Global Education worked with Residential Services to make a pre-departure video to explain how students check-in once they arrive at Kent State. The recent barometer shows that implementation of the video has boosted students’ comfortability.

“We tried to make the process as quick and friendly as possible,” DiMaria said. “It has increased ratings (in that area).”

Ediz Kaykayoglu, education abroad manager at Kent State, said he’s noticed a lot of changes to benefit international students since he arrived from Turkey eight years ago to work on his master’s degree.

“It’s more welcoming today,” Kaykayoglu said. “Not that it wasn’t before, but it is more now.”

DiMaria said in addition to the pre-departure video, international students are greeted at Kent State by a student who speaks their native language. Once the new student is settled, they take a trip to Walmart so the student has all of the essentials to feel at home.

Kaykayoglu said other areas of the university are more accommodating to international students than when he first arrived.

“Advising used to question your level of understanding English,” Kaykayoglu said. “Now, the faculty understands if you’re not at that level and tries to help you.”

Kyoko Matsuyama, a junior art major, said she has not had any difficulties with her adviser since she came to Kent State from Japan.

“My adviser is nice and speaks my language, so that helps,” Matsuyama said.

The Office of Global Education helps has also set up an international peer association, which Kaykayoglu said helps international students find support from classmates at Kent State.

While the program has made international students feel welcome, DiMaria said the International Student Barometer indicates the university still needs to improve in that area.

“Students say they want more American friends,” DiMaria said. “They feel like there’s not enough to do on the weekends either, which goes back to having American friends.”

Transportation also plays an important role in international students’ overall experience.

Matsuyama said the buses in Japan had a light system that indicated when a bus was coming and if one had just left. No such indicators exist at the bus stops around campus, and she added that the amount of buses also poses a problem.

“There is difficulty with transportation (here) because of the limited buses,” Matsuyama said. “But it’s easier now that I have a car on campus.”

While Matsuyama said she wishes the food wasn’t so expensive, DiMaria said the barometer indicates other international students are very satisfied with dining services.

“Kent State international students are the most satisfied with dining services than any other U.S. university,” DiMaria said.

Tang agreed, noting his favorite place is Shake, Wrap and Roll at the HUB, where he normally eats sushi.

Kaykayoglu said it’s important to continue doing the International Student Barometer to keep improving the international student program.

“We fill in the gaps to improve the quality,” Kaykayoglu said. “Are we at 100 percent? No. But we are getting there, and students can feel like their voices counted. That’s the beauty of this country.”

Contact Rachel Jones at [email protected].

Editor’s note: Due to the reporter’s and photographer’s errors, this story has been updated to reflect the correct Tang’s correct field of study and birthplace.