Increase in international exchange bucks US trends

By Melissa Schill

Of the 2,395 undergraduate students studying at Wheaton, 88 are international students, representing 23 different countries. This number, which has increased over the past three years, puts Wheaton at odds with national trends, which according to Inside Higher Ed have been on the decline over the same period.

In 2013, 45 international students lived on campus, but in the past six years the number has doubled. The increase has been fairly steady, though between 2018 and 2019 the number rose by 88 percent. As such, the International Student Programs (ISP) have increased their efforts to assist these students with balancing F-1 visa and immigration paperwork alongside their homework. “That’s a significant burden that a lot of our international students carry,” Director of ISP Jerry Woehr said. “I don’t think a lot of students on our campus realize that our international students are having to figure these things out while also doing the normal day-to-day student things.”

Along with international students, there are currently 150 missionary kids (MKs) and 92 third-culture-kids (TCKs) studying at Wheaton. Unlike the steady increase in the international student population, the number of MKs and TCKs fluctuate from year to year.

In addition to welcoming students from around the world, Wheaton maintains a strong presence overseas and sends hundreds of students abroad every year. For domestic students seeking an international education experience, the Global Programs and Studies (GPS) office, located in Wyngarden, makes studying abroad accessible for students of all majors and academic needs. GPS connects students with hundreds of opportunities across the world, through Wheaton-specific programs and partner programs. If no options apply to what they are looking for, students also have the opportunity to petition for an outside program.

A national report by Open Doors states that one in 10 college students will study abroad at some point in their four-year career. At Wheaton, 48 percent of students travel abroad.

Currently, 72 students are overseas for the fall semester and 46 students are slated to study abroad for the spring semester. Although this may seem like a drop between the two semesters, Director of Study Abroad Deb Kim explained that “it’s not as huge of a gap as it seems at face value” because the fall semester numbers include HNGR students, who account for around 20 of those abroad. These numbers have held steady since last year when there were 78 abroad in the fall and 43 abroad in the spring. Last summer, 297 students went abroad.

Cathy Shi, who serves as president of Axis, one of ISP’s student-led groups, said that cross-cultural connection is sometimes lacking on campus. “In order to engage better with the international community on campus, people really need to come out of their own cultural bubble and be open minded and perceptive with global stories. Students who spend a semester abroad find coming back to Wheaton hard because people at Wheaton cannot, don’t care or find it difficult to connect to their stories.”

Woehr encouraged students to familiarize themselves with other cultures, whether through studying abroad or connecting with international students on campus, for the sake of broadening their view of God.

“I truly believe that our international student population, their stories and their cultures are gifts to our campus that allow us to get to better know the nature of God,” Woehr said. “If we are not leaving room for their stories, cultures and traditions, then we are limiting our view of who God is because we see him through his people.”

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