The rest of the world seems really close to home as the University of St. Francis (USF) celebrates International Education Week through this Friday, Nov. 22.
This year, University of St. Francis welcomed 14 new international students to campus from Bolivia, Brazil, China, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. They joined other already-enrolled international students from Argentina, Austria, Ecuador, Lithuania, New Zealand, Poland, Russia and Serbia. Visiting students are mainly studying business and computer science, said Angie Maffeo (Joliet), acting director of the International Programs Office and director of English Language for Academic Purposes (ELAP).Jiaxi Hou, an MBA student from Beijing, China, said he likes being in the United States and is especially enjoying his USF experience. “I like the faculty at University of St. Francis. They are dedicated and passionate about teaching,” he said. “Most importantly, faculty members care about different cultures and are willing to teach their students in a global perspective.”
Many international students to have to work on their English language skills before beginning a degree program at USF. To facilitate that kind of learning, ELAP was developed to prepare non-native English speakers with intensive English training before starting their studies. The full-time training program is offered in 15-week sessions beginning in January, May or August, with students taking a minimum of 18-20 hours of English language instruction each week. Students take a placement test upon their arrival to USF to determine the levels at which they will begin the program courses. Those who are determined to be advanced in their knowledge typically only need one semester of ELAP to move forward. Most students, who come in with intermediate skills, will need two semesters (about eight months) of learning, said Maffeo.
Yuejia Su from Nanjing Jiangsu, China, will soon finally finish her work in the ELAP program and move into the MBA program with Hou. She indicated that she likes USF most because “USF people are the nicest in the world.”
The great distances traveled by many international students who have never been away from their home countries before can create additional challenges. Further assistance is often necessary to help them adjust to United States culture and life in a new country. The International Programs Office created the Culture Connect program to give international students “a buddy” on campus. International students are paired with American students at USF, which gives both students the opportunity to connect more personally with someone from another country, develop new friendships, and to enhance their global awareness. Several USF families are also connecting through the “Friendship Family Program,” which started just this year. Friendship Family pairs USF’s international students with American families for traditional American holidays.
The “international factor” goes both ways at University of St. Francis, noted Maffeo. Several USF students leave Joliet to study overseas each year. USF currently has exchange partnerships with Universidad Catolica de Avila in Avila, Spain; Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná in Curitiba, Brazil; Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; L’Ecole de Management de Normandie in Normandy, France; Universidad de San Francisco Xavier in Sucre, Bolivia; Kristianstad University in Kristianstad, Sweden, and Vietnam Maritime University in Hai Phong City, Vietnam.
Other faculty-led cultural experiences are coordinated each year. This current semester, students are studying with USF English professor John Bowers in Florence, Italy, and others are studying in Rome and Xi’an, China. Further plans are underway for USF groups to travel to destinations including Europe, Costa Rica, Peru, Bolivia and South Africa in spring and summer 2014. Maureen Stephan (Joliet), assistant director of the International Programs Office, has been instrumental in organizing these opportunities for USF students and the USF community.
With all of this exposure to various cultures on campus, it is fitting that the USF International Club has been hard at work to prepare for International Education Week. Last week, they and the International Programs Office presented campus events including a study abroad poster fair, mini-language lessons and a Nigerian business forum. This week, the USF community can attend an International Programs Office open house and a study abroad “insider session” for USF students who want to Skype with the USF students who are studying in Italy.
Other planned events included the “World Cup Soccer Tournament,” which took place Nov. 17 in the Pat Sullivan Center. Coordinated by International Programs Office graduate assistant Jakub “Kuba” Szymanski from Poland, the tournament proceeds will fund a study abroad scholarship for a USF student. In addition, the International Club and UVA Club presented the “Exchanging Cultures” variety show focused on culture and the arts.
The University of St. Francis in Joliet serves 3,400 students nationwide, offering undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs in arts and science, business, education, nursing, health care and social work. For information, call (800) 735-7500 or visit www.stfrancis.edu.