College campuses tend to be a diverse community of students, and included in the students enrolled are international students.
Pearly Das, junior in apparel, merchandising and design, feels Iowa State “would not be the same” without international students, as they are an essential part of the diverse cultural environment at Iowa State.
International students comprised 8.1 percent of the total enrollment at Iowa State during the fall semester, according to enrollment statistics. These students help diversify campus by sharing different cultural perspectives.
Das, an international student from India, said international students contribute to the university’s culture in several ways.
“They bring different traditions, cultures, languages and diversity,” Das said. “Every international student brings their own point of view about how the world is, so we learn a lot from them.”
Alejandra Flores, a junior in political science and president of the International Student Council at Iowa State, explained that students with an international background foster diversity just by interacting with students and existing on campus. She described it as a “passive” process of cultural enrichment.
“International students provide different perspectives and insights that expand our understanding of the world as well as ourselves,” said Melody Schobert, an academic adviser of the Ivy College of Business. “They come here to learn; we learn from them as well.”
Flores, who was born in Mexico, feels the international student population is an asset to Iowa State. She said she chose to attend Iowa State because of the diversity that international students bring to campus.
“I think it is very important for domestic students to learn and to be with people of different cultures and different backgrounds,” she said.
Flores said international students create opportunities for students to interact with cultures and countries from around the globe.
Flores described an experience she had with an international student from Africa. She made Mexican rice, a dish from her culture, and the student told her an identical recipe existed in African culture. That experience encouraged her to learn more about African food and culture, which she said helped expand her cultural awareness.
Das explained that international students often celebrate cultural events and holidays with domestic students, which allows them to share their culture. She said that through this exchange, students can “see a culture from another person’s eyes.”
Das said she plans to celebrate the Hindu festival Holi this month and share this part of her culture with her domestic friends.
However, students say diversity is not the only significant benefit international students bring to Iowa State.
“International students are very beneficial not only for cultural and social reasons but economically, too,” Flores said.
According to the Institute of International Education, international students contributed $45 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018.
International students contribute directly to the university through tuition and fees, but they also contribute to the economy in Ames when they spend money in the community.
Flores said many of Ames’ diverse restaurants would not exist without international students because these businesses typically cater to the global student cultures.
“There are a lot of restaurants around Ames that really reflect the population we have,” she said.
Globally, international student populations have more than doubled since 2001, according to EducationData.org. However, the percentage of international students studying in the U.S. has dropped from 28 percent to 21 percent in the same period.
Despite the importance of international students to the U.S. economy and the cultural benefits they bring, more international students are choosing to study abroad in other countries.
“We clearly see the benefits of [international students], so how can we best serve them and continue to grow the numbers of international students?” Flores asked.
Schobert encourages students to interact with international students and get involved in programs through the International Students and Scholars Office.
“Reach out and get to know some of your fellow students who come from other places in the world,” she said. “It can be a bit daunting to do this; however, what you gain makes it well worth your time and the effort.”
Schobert said “Iowa State would lose some of its vibrancy” without the influence of international students.
“Our world views would be diminished instead of enhanced,” she said.