As an international student from Thailand, I know firsthand that there are so many aspects of college life made more difficult by being from somewhere (anywhere) else. Not only do we have to tackle immense homesickness and culture shock, but there are American pop culture references that fly way over our heads and vastly different ideas of what constitutes “the norm.” I still receive weird looks whenever I eat pizza with a knife and fork or mention that time I had to kill a python in my living room. These ten colleges go above and beyond in creating a safe, comfortable, and most importantly, affordable college experience for their international students.
10. Harvard University
Harvard’s population boasts 9,000 students from over 155 countries. Their diversity rates are split about 50/50, and they celebrate this cultural hybridity whole-heartedly, with over 50 ethnic and multicultural organizations. A highlight of the year, for example, may be Cultural Rhythms, an annual festival that showcases student performances and a feast of different ethnic dishes. Harvard offers a host family program for its international students if they’d rather not dorm, and international students are provided (like U.S. citizens) with some of the best need-based financial aid packages in the country. According to U.S. News, Harvard’s average international aid in the 2013-2014 school year was $51,854, ranking them amongst the top 10 most generous schools. I really should have studied harder in high school—that’s an insanely good deal.
9. University of Tulsa
The University of Tulsa doesn’t just encourage international students to enroll; they take great care of them when they arrive. The campus has its own international living community, which attempts to equally balance its domestic and international population. They value the intercultural environment and believe that a fusion of cultures will only strengthen the school’s learning atmosphere. Thanks to this living system, both American and non-American students benefit by learning and growing together. With a 26 percent international student percentage and highly developed multicultural programs, TU students seem to be doing just fine.
8. New York University
No surprise that a New York school is featured on the list, since the Big Apple has long been known to be a melting pot of diversity and cultural exchange. NYU is known as a global university, with campuses in 13 countries around the world. Students from over 133 countries come to study here in the heart of Manhattan.
7. University of Michigan
But Michigan’s so cold, right? Well, yes. But this list of monthly international events should warm you up. The University of Michigan really cares that their international students not only succeed, but get as much exposure to American culture as they can during their time here. To make sure this happens, the university’s international programs host auto show events, Bed, Bath and Beyond trips, seminars on driving in the U.S. and tipping etiquette. As mundane as those probably sound to American students, some of my scariest moments as a freshman were being left with my bill and not having the faintest idea what a respectable tipping percentage was. The University of Michigan knows it’s all in the details.
6. Illinois Institute of Technology
With a quarter of its student population being international, the IIT takes their foreign programs seriously. The school provides an English conversation partner program for any student who wants to practice more, helping foster relationships and a sense of community. If you’re worried your language skills will get you lost in the city, students are taken on tours through Chicago. My favorite part of the deal, though, is that IIT offers a Thanksgiving holiday program. Turkey Day is such a big part of American culture that it’s easy to forget that for many of us it’s just another day of the year, except with more food. For students without family living locally, it can be hard to find a place to be for the holiday (Thanksgiving dinner my sophomore year may or may not have consisted of stale Pop-Tarts and dry cereal).
5. Columbia University
Columbia University has long been a pioneer of diversity and advocacy. It was the first multiracial campus to have an African-American advocacy group, and the first college to have a student-led gay rights advocacy group. Today, Columbia has students from all 50 states and over 90 countries, and 61 percent minority students. With such a diverse culture, it’s no wonder that people from all over flock to Columbia. The school’s International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) sets students up with orientation sessions and workshops throughout the year to help with taxes and immigration issues, even bringing in nationally recognized attorneys to give solid advice.
4. University of Southern California
The best part about the University of Southern California has got to be the warm weather year-round…the East coast just can’t compete with flip-flops and tan lines. But other perks are that USC offers international students in-depth ESL programs for those who need it, and the undergrad population alone represents over 91 different countries, from Canada to Indonesia. “I think the fact that USC is in L.A. helps a lot of international students feel less homesick, since it is much easier for them to find things that they would find at home (ex. food, clothes, movies, shows). Also, because the city hosts a lot of international residents, international students feel more connected and less lonely. USC specifically has a lot of international organizations and the school occasionally gives out funds for us to host events and activities. I think this helps a lot in connecting people of similar cultures within the university, which again, at the end of the day, makes us feel less homesick,” said Nan Wasusopon, a junior business administration major at USC.
3. University of Illinois
The U of Illinois celebrates diversity, as evidenced by its four cultural centers which highlight African-American, Asian-American, Latino-American and Native American culture. This school is big on helping their approximately 5,000 international students succeed in America after graduation, hosting information sessions about work visas and employment eligibility. UI works hard to create an atmosphere for students to share their country’s backgrounds by organizing cultural events and even an Indoor Soccer World Cup Tournament. “We have an International Student Services department to help with the transition to an American University. Also, international student dorms help these students find friends and adapt to new stressors. Madison is a smorgasbord of people differing in age, race, sexual orientation and in every other way possible, but everyone possesses a uniquely Midwestern friendliness, and this helps a lot,” said Alex Yant, University of Illinois sophomore.
2. Purdue University
International students are so loved at Purdue that they’ve become a huge part of the Boilermaker freshman class. With a 23 percent international population and over 9,000 non-American students, Purdue ranks as the second-highest enrollment of international students in the U.S. “Purdue provides an atmosphere for cultures to flourish…no matter what background we are from, we are all there for one reason and that is to succeed,” said Purdue alumna Maggie Musillami. International students can check out “Boiler Gold Rush International,” a freshman orientation that takes place before all of the other first-years arrive on campus to begin their welcome week. “That program really helped me connect to other first year students and helped me get to know Purdue better,” said Terry Tsai, a freshman from Thailand.
1. The New School
International students at The New School in New York make up a whopping 31 percent of the student body, so you know they’re doing something right. The school is committed to providing immigration advice and cultural support to their international students, which includes planning events throughout the semester. The International Student and Scholar Services plans museums tours, Broadway shows, and even UN office visits for their foreign students, creating fun ways for them to become more comfortable with the city. International students struggling with culture shock can attend The New School’s mentoring programs, but if that’s not enough, the staff hosts a weekly coffee date for students to drop by and talk about any issues or upcoming events. Way to go above and beyond for the 3,000-plus international students—no wonder their diversity rates are only continuing in an upward spiral.