Increase in International Students Puts Global Face on Rutgers

Chinmay Rele, who was born in India, chose Rutgers University-New Brunswick for the opportunity to do undergraduate research. Credits: Nick Romanenko/Rutgers University

A university known for its diversity is becoming even more global.

In the last five years, Rutgers has seen a steady increase in undergraduate international students, ever since a change in state policy led to more aggressive recruiting abroad. Out of 8,500 new undergraduate students across Rutgers this fall, about 900 came from other countries. Five years ago, the incoming class consisted of only 330 international students.

The students are drawn here for the research opportunities, greater academic freedom or simply a better education than is available at home. They learn about Rutgers at college fairs, from tutors and internet searches and come from about 100 different counties – including China, India, Turkey, Belize, Japan and Canada.

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“I chose Rutgers because I wanted to do undergraduate research,’’ said Chinmay Rele, a sophomore genetics major in Rutgers-New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences. “I want to be in a position where people respect my opinion, and that can only come if I have as much exposure as I can to what I want to do.’’

Rele was born in India, grew up in Dubai and was living in Singapore when he started his college search. His parents hired a firm to help identify schools abroad since opportunities were limited close to home. He considered M.I.T. before settling on Rutgers, where he believed he would find more research choices.

“I love it here,’’ Rele said. “The school spirit is off the chain. And if I get homesick I just have to pick my head out of a book and look at the other Indian people at Rutgers or smell Indian food and it’s good.

Technology makes it possible for international students to text, talk and video chat regularly with their families preventing bouts of homesickness.  And the diversity at Rutgers helps international students feel like they fit in.

“I like the different cultures at Rutgers,’’ said Jodie Shen, a junior nutrition major in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. Shen, who was born in Taiwan, grew up in Belize and went to English speaking schools. Being at Rutgers and in New Brunswick, she said, gives her a chance to practice her Mandarin with other students.

“I’m interested in getting to know the people I meet,’’ Shen said. “I want to talk to them, understand them and learn things from them. I think it makes me more open minded and mature.’’


Photo: Nick Romanenko/Rutgers University

Zetao Yu,from China and Jodie Shen,from Belize are among the nearly 7,500 international students at Rutgers


Rutgers stepped up its international recruitment five years ago after the state ended a policy that penalized the university several thousand dollars for each out-of-state and international student accepted, said Courtney McAnuff, vice president of enrollment management at Rutgers.

The university’s strategic plan, adopted in 2014, called for increasing out-of-state and international student enrollment at Rutgers. The university currently recruits students in 76 cities throughout 20 countries, McAnuff said.

As of this fall Rutgers has nearly 7,500 graduate and undergraduate students across New Brunswick, Camden and Newark. That number is more than double the 3,222 international students at Rutgers in 2011.

The university is expecting to see an even bigger boost in international student enrollment after recently hosting the 2016 conference of the International Association for College Admissions Counseling. About 1,000 high school counselors from 90 different countries visited Rutgers in July and toured the entire university system over four days.

“The counselors might have heard of Rutgers, but they didn’t know about its scope, its size and its diversity,’’ McAnuff said.

“They saw that Rutgers is a school where students won’t feel isolated, won’t be singled out because of their ethnicity or race, will have the ability to find food from their country and  the ability to worship with someone like themselves,’’ he said. “Within an hour of here, you can find people from virtually every country in the world.’’

McAnuff said there are many benefits to the growing number of students from abroad. International students generally pay full tuition that helps the university generate revenue at a time of declining state aid. Rutgers is able to invest some of the money back into providing financial aid for New Jersey residents, McAnuff said.

There are also benefits for the atmosphere it creates on campus, he said.

“I don’t think there is any other university where you can walk around and see the world reflected back at you,’’ McAnuff said.

During the last five years, Rutgers has improved services and amenities across the system for students who come from abroad. This includes keeping most dining halls and residence halls open during school breaks for students who can’t return home.

The Center for Global Services - which is part of the Centers for Global Advancement and International Affairs (GAIA Centers) - developed a special weeklong orientation for international students at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. Sessions range from how to open a bank account or maintain legal status to discussions of dealing with culture shock. Similar programs are offered at Rutgers-Newark and Rutgers-Camden. 

The Office of International Students at Rutgers-Camden offers an ambassador program and the Office of International Students and Scholar Services at Rutgers-Newark provides mentors to help international students make the transition. The International Friendship Program at Rutgers-New Brunswick also helps students make connections on campus.

“Questions American students don’t think of can be a problem for us,’’ said Sarah Lin, a senior at Rutgers-Camden who was born in Tawain and grew up in China. “Like how to get a phone, how to get a driver’s license, what do I need to find a job or how do I drop a class.’’

Zetao Yu said his residence hall adviser also played a major role in making him feel at home.

“He made me feel like local people could understand me, my English was not that bad and I became more willing to speak out,’’ said Yu, a sophomore mathematics major who came to the United States from China for more academic freedom.

Yu said his English tutor in China had suggested Rutgers for its highly ranked math program. But Yu said he was also interested in Rutgers-New Brunswick for its membership in the Big Ten.

“I think students at Big Ten schools always have a sporting spirit,’’ Yu said. “They are engaging they want to compete with others. I was attracted by this spirit.’’

Dalia Abdalla, a graphic design major who was born in Egypt, choose Rutgers-Newark so she could live with cousins nearby and for internship opportunities she could pursue being close to New York. She knew coming to Rutgers could be difficult for students who didn’t have family to turn to for support, so she joined the mentoring program to help others.

“The United States is different than any other country and I know how overwhelming it can be,’’ Abdalla said. “There can be some culture shock and students get anxious. I feel it’s very important for someone to be there for you from day one when you are in a strange country away from your family.’’

The growing global nature of Rutgers benefits all students throughout the university, said Urmi Otiv, director of the Center for Global Services.

“Education is not complete today unless it has a global component,’’ Otiv said.

“When you step into the global market you don’t know who your boss or colleagues are going to be, or what part of the world they are going to be from, and if you are not comfortable being able to interact with them, it’s going to hurt you big time,’’ she said. “We are providing students with experiences they need to step into the world and succeed.’’  

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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