About the series

From the IDS investigations team

We’ve spent two months digging and talking to students from across the globe to find an answer.

This year, 6,015 international students attend IU. The education they assumed they would receive from IU’s world-renowned programs outweighed any anxieties they had about a new language, a new culture, a new home.

But IU is shortchanging its international students out of the true Hoosier experience, placing them in overflow housing, improperly assessing their English proficiency and under preparing staffers and resident assistants to make them feel at home.

That’s certainly not the case for all international students at IU, but it is for some.

During the next four days, we’ll bring you eight stories that identify institutional shortcomings and explain cultural stereotypes, because the first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.

As much as this series is about the University’s shortcomings, it’s also about the reluctance of IU students, foreign and domestic, to try to understand one another. It’s about a college experience shortchanged by hesitation and assumption.

They’re assumptions that former IU President Herman B Wells never intended when he vowed to cultivate a diversity-centric campus, ones that have no place at our school.

In reporting this story, we have learned a lot.

We hope you’ll learn something, too.


Increasingly international

Part One: Getting Here

The University’s first international student from outside North America was a Japanese man named Takekuma Okada, class of 1891.

In the 122 years since then, IU administration has worked to develop a global community. The University has forged relationships with institutions in 105 countries, and the number of international students on campus has skyrocketed.

Today, with 6,015 international students on the Bloomington campus, IU is No. 11 on the list of American academic institutions with the greatest number of international students, according to the most recent Open Doors Report released last year by the Institute of International Education. 

Diversity is the driving force behind recruitment of these students. The University continues to increase its overseas affiliations to expose domestic students to the rest of the world and the rest of the world to Bloomington.

Yet about 90 percent of IU’s international students enrolled during the 2012-13 academic year are from Asia. About 50 percent of the international student population comes from China.

“We’ve seen applicants predominantly from two or three countries here at IU, and we are constantly looking at new ways and venues to try to increase the diversity,” Director of International Admissions Matt Beatty said.

Recruiting international students to American universities is a relatively novel idea, Beatty said.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, the number of international students at universities across the United States decreased as parents and students abroad became increasingly concerned about safety, Beatty said. In response, American universities amplified their international recruiting mechanisms.

Previously, many schools didn’t need to recruit. They made the education available, and international students applied.

International recruiting, particularly with the intended goal of increasing diversity on campus, requires a delicate balance between what is ideal and what is fiscally practical, Beatty said.

If resources are expended for recruitment, the University needs to be sure they are going toward communities “where we know that students can afford to come here,” Beatty said.

“It would be a disadvantage, or I guess not very wise for us to go into markets where we know that students wouldn’t be able to come and afford to study here,” he said. 

As a result of socioeconomic discrepancies in countries and finite resources within the University, sometimes seeking prospective students means recruiting at the top-10 percent of a country’s population, Beatty said. This is especially true in the case of countries where the University is just starting to recruit.

“They know very little about IU, the programs, our excellence in academic work and faculty, so it can be a challenge sometimes,” he said. “It’s almost like cold calling or starting from scratch where you’re building momentum and hopefully we can get one or two students to appreciate all of the wonderful things we have to offer, come here and then use word of mouth.”

Although diversity is a concern for administration, IU’s Vice President for International Affairs David Zaret said a large consideration is not the country from which students come but the quality of the student.

“We want to recruit students who will have good, positive experiences in Bloomington,” he said.

* * *

Freshman Bruno Sandes sat in a large green room, awaiting the cue to move toward the Musical Arts Center stage. Dressed in 15th-century garb for a Falstaff dress rehearsal, he wore subtle stage makeup and a smile.

Sandes, 25, came to IU after he realized it would be nearly impossible to become an opera singer in Brazil.

He came in contact with IU professor of voice Robert Harrison at Campos do Jordão International Winter Festival, the largest classical music festival in Latin America. Harrison encouraged Sandes to audition in January 2012.

“He said it would be much better if I left Brazil to come here because of opportunities and the type of voice I have,” Sandes, a baritone, said. “So I came here, and I sang for the auditions, and I got an amazing scholarship.”

Sandes was one of eight musicians named a Jacobs Scholar for the 2012-13 academic year. He was the only international student to receive the distinction. 

Without the full-ride scholarship, he said, it would have been difficult to come and study at what he called “one of the best schools of music in the whole world.”

“It’s extremely expensive here, really,” Sandes said, adding that one Brazilian real is the equivalent of 50 cents. “Everything here is double price for me, so it would be nearly impossible to come.”

By the time Sandes graduates, he’ll have two bachelor’s degrees: a degree in vocal performance from IU and a degree in interior design he earned at a school in Brazil prior to auditioning for Jacobs. 

In Brazil, it’s relatively inexpensive and sometimes even free to attend public universities, in a system similar to the public high school system in the U.S., Sandes said. If it weren’t for the scholarship, Sandes would be paying just less than $33,000 for tuition and mandatory fees, as well as the costs for all new furniture and clothing for the winter.

But he knew his dream couldn’t be realized unless he sought music education outside his own country. 

* * *

In 2011, the Commission for Higher Education and the Indiana General Assembly instated a plan to cut funding to public colleges and universities by 5 percent.

According to the plan, the cuts would create a pool of $61 million, which would be redistributed to reward campuses with growing undergraduate enrollment. The plan proved negative for IU, a large public institution with a consistently high enrollment and graduation rate.

From 2008-11, state operating funds for IU-Bloomington dropped by about $25 million, or 12 percent.

Plummeting state funding, a phenomenon institutions across the country are dealing with, coincides with the continued growth of the international student population at IU, although the total enrollment rate for IU-Bloomington has stayed about the same for the past five years.

Public universities suffering state funding cuts “really are starting to realize the tuition from international students makes it possible for them to continue offering scholarships and financial aid to domestic students,” Institute of International Education Senior Counselor Peggy Blumenthal told the Associated Press.

Zaret said although some American universities, such as Purdue University, charge international students substantial additional fees to generate revenue, IU isn’t one of them. 

Undergraduate international students pay the same baseline tuition and mandatory fees as domestic, non-Indiana residents, Director of International Student and Scholar Advising Rendy Schrader said in an email. However, international students pay an additional $84 per semester as an international service fee, which funds support programs such as immigration and visa advising, employment counseling and tax assistance.

The University can recruit all the non-resident students it needs domestically, Zaret said. It doesn’t need to look outside the U.S. for additional revenue.

“Our principle reason for recruiting international students is not financial,” he said. “It’s diversity.”

Following World War II, attracting international students to American universities was seen as a component of foreign policy. The year the war ended, 1945, there were 21 international students — accounting for about 0.1 percent of the student body. By 1947, the University attracted 113 international students out of a student body of about 16,800.

Former IU President Herman B Wells, who served from 1938-62, spearheaded the effort to attract international students to Bloomington. The world was becoming more interdependent, he said in a 1957 speech to the American Council on Education, and there was a new urgency in the pursuit of knowledge. The University was discovering how to balance the needs of both national and international students.

“Foreign students and scholars must not be casual visitors, but in due course are encouraged to become an integral part of our campus community,” Wells said.

Wells played a role in convincing the brother of the Dalai Lama to settle in Bloomington. He ensured world art had a permanent home in the IU Art Museum. He expanded the number of faculty from overseas and helped the University establish relationships with schools in Mexico, England, France and Spain.

International students had an adviser of their own in Charles L. Lundin, the University’s Counselor for Foreign Students during the mid-1900s. Lundin encouraged faculty to reach out to international students, especially those who seemed like they were struggling to adapt.

“Invitations to dinner, to tea, to sociable evenings, or to informal gatherings of faculty and American students would acquaint our visitors with aspects of American university life which might otherwise remain unfamiliar to them,” he wrote in a 1942 letter to members of IU faculty. 

In 1951, IU appeared for the first time among the top-25 universities with the largest number of international students. At No. 24, the University had 195 international students, accounting for 0.9 percent of the student body.

In 1958, the Leo R. Dowling Center opened its doors on Jordan Avenue, providing international students a central hub of activity. 

By the 1970s, the number of international students IU had climbed to about 1,500, with a large proportion hailing from oil-rich Middle Eastern countries, who would infuse Bloomington’s economy with an average of $11,754 a year per student, according to a press release.

The 1980s and 90s saw the University foster relationships with institutions in Malaysia, South Africa, Nambia, Kyrgyzstan and Macedonia. The Foster International Center was established as a way for Residential Programs and Services to reach international students.

The “global community” at IU has evolved during the course of 122 years. In many ways, the University’s resources for international literacy has grown.

In other ways, it has digressed, moving away from the personalized care of each international student and launching toward a race for numbers.

The Leo R. Dowling International Center no longer exists as a hub for international student activity. There is no longer a high-ranking Counselor for Foreign Students. 

Many international students experience freshman semesters in overflow housing and realize their English is not as proficient as the University tells them it is.

But the numbers indicate the University is succeeding, climbing toward the goal of a top-10 spot on the list of internationally minded universities.


Bridging the gap

Part Two: Life Abroad

Long Long sat front and center in his American Country Music class. 

It was Tuesday morning, and the day’s topic was Outlaw Country and Southern Rock. In a windowless practice room in the Jacobs School of Music, the Chinese international student begrudgingly listened. 

He listened to Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson. 

“How many of you have seen ‘Sweet Home Alabama’?” the professor asked. 

About half the class raised their hands. Long did not.

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic lyrics appeared on the projector, and the class followed along silently as the song played aloud. Long translated the twang in his mind. Two rows back, one student tapped his pencil to the beat. 

“Big wheels keep on turnin’/ carry me home to see my kin/ singin’ sounds about the Southland/ I miss Alabamy once again and I think it’s a sin, yeah”

The discussion moved toward the “Ramblin’ Man” by the Allman Brothers Band and transitioned into the Charlie Daniels Band’s “Devil Went Down to Georgia.” 

“It’s a sound that’s not at all unfamiliar to you,” the professor said. 

But when the Chinese international student enrolled in the class in January, they were all unfamiliar. Long listens to pop music, not country. The genre doesn’t even exist in China, Long said.

A journalism major pursuing a music minor, the sophomore had planned to take a different music class this semester. But the statistics lab he enrolled in was cancelled, which threw off his schedule. Long needed a different music course to fulfill his music minor requirement. American Country Music fit the bill. 

“There’s still a lot you can learn, though,” Long said. 

Since he arrived on campus in August, Long’s life has been a reel of reconciliations. His diet now includes cheeseburgers and fresh veggies alongside the traditional Chinese food he finds in Bloomington restaurants. In class, he speaks English, but with friends he reverts to his native Mandarin. 

In less than a month, the international student will pack his bags and return to China for the first time since last fall. 

In spite of the cultural barriers that have challenged him along the way, Bloomington has become home. From his window at the top of Eigenmann Hall, he can see it all.

Will doesn’t do it every night, but sometimes Long stands at his 11th-floor picture window at sunset, watching the tangerine blaze sink out of sight on its way to a new day halfway around the world.

* * * 

Long, who goes by Will in the United States, found Hogan Stanger through the Onestart Classifieds. 

“Basketball coach needed!” the ad read. “Price negotiable.”

It called for an experienced coach, one with patience and passion. The 12-man team needed to build a defense and wanted help Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon. 

Will said the team had no idea how to play defense. They needed individualized skill work. Some had played in intramurals, others were rookies. 

Will received many inquiries about the position, all from Americans. Will interviewed only four of them. Hogan was third. 

Will and Hogan sat at a table on the fourth floor of Herman B Wells Library. Behind them sat another Chinese student, Alvin Zhan, the team captain. He transcribed the interview on his computer. 

Will asked a variety of questions: How will you handle the communication divide? Will you be patient with us? Are you willing to commit to us long-term?     

They talked about Hogan’s coaching philosophy and experience. 

He finished the other interviews and selected Hogan as their new coach. Their first practice would be the Saturday after spring break. 

The American walked into the School of Public Health gym around 10 a.m. The Chinese team was already warming up.

Hogan shook Will’s hand, introduced himself and briefly exchanged introductions with the rest of the team. As the sun poured in through the windows, the players gathered on the court. 

One wore crimson IU athletic shorts and another sported a white t-shirt designed with an American flag, the Superman symbol replacing the 50 stars. Upon the feet of every player were shoes of different colors, representing only one brand: Nike. Some wore the specialty line, Air Jordan.

Lebron James’ face was plastered on one black t-shirt. 

Hogan began practice with the basics, instructing the players to dribble down the court with their right hand and back with their left. With little uniformity, the team went through the motions of a remix version of the drill Hogan explained. At random times along the way, players paused to dribble behind their back or through their legs, throwing each other off pace. 

As Hogan engaged enthusiastically in English, the only feedback he received were nods of acknowledgment. The players called him “sir” and “coach” but instructed each other in Mandarin. Amid side conversations he couldn’t understand, the American coach tried to crack a few jokes. 

Even coaching a sport he lived by, Hogan seemed a little out of place.

Hogan demonstrated plays for the team, using his hands to move people into place. He called Will by name. Everyone else was “you with the red shorts” or “you with the yellow shoes.” 

“What we gotta do is communicate and have each other’s backs,” Hogan said. 

The team shouted across the court to one another in Mandarin just like their new coach had instructed. 

“We yell in Chinese,” Will said. “You have to take time to react if you’re using English.” 

They had asked Hogan if he minded them using Mandarin during practice. He didn’t mind as long as they were effectively communicating. 

After two hours of practice, Hogan recapped what they had learned, emphasizing words like “we” and “our.” 

“All we have to do is play smart and play hard,” Hogan said, quoting one of his former Bloomington High School North coaches. 

The practice ended without a team huddle. They turned to leave, but Hogan stopped everyone, requesting a second round of introductions. 

He went down the line, shaking hands one by one as the players he knew only by clothing color introduced themselves again. 

“Hi, I’m Paul ... Tobias ... Alvin ... Jack ...” 

* * *

Will’s mom would say he’s an “independent guy.” 

Unlike many first-year students at American universities, this isn’t the first time Will has lived away from his parents. For three years in high school, he lived at a boarding school in his hometown of Shenzhen, a large city just north of Hong Kong. It was there Will learned to speak Mandarin, China’s official language, and Cantonese, the official language in Hong Kong. It’s also where he learned to speak English. 

The now-19-year-old traveled to Europe with his parents during the summer after his senior year, and it was then he decided he wanted to study abroad in college. Will had already enrolled in a community college in his hometown, but in spring 2012 he applied to IU.  

When he arrived in Bloomington just a few days before international student orientation, Will knew only one other IU student on campus, his roommate from high school. He didn’t know where he would live, let alone who his IU roommate would be. 

For the first two weeks of classes, Will lived out of his suitcase in an Eigennman Hall lounge, a product of “overflow housing” when the University admits more students than there are living spaces. Eventually Will was moved into a three-person room with one American roommate and one Chinese roommate. 

The sophomore journalism major enrolled in an English proficiency course for international students who have passed the Test of English as a Foreign Language but are trying to improve their conversation skills. In January, Will signed up for his first two journalism courses. He’s aware American journalists can openly criticize the government, but he’s still coming to terms with the full implications of a free press. 

Free speech is a foreign concept to Will because China’s communist government prohibits demonstrations.

Basketball has always been an integral part of his life. He played back home. Since he arrived in August, he’s seen the Pacers play in Indianapolis, refereed intramural basketball and followed the Hoosiers. 

Now Will and a dozen of his friends are forming an official Chinese Basketball Association. They want to give Chinese students a place to learn and practice. 

After they’d decided to hire Hogan, the newly formed team discovered the Chinese Student and Scholar Association was sponsoring a basketball tournament. 

They already had the drive to get better — now they had a place to compete. 

They named their team Tree New Bee. In English, the phrase means nothing. That’s the point. In China, citizens are responding to anti-protest policies by developing double-barreled phrases. When spoken aloud, a Mandarin phrase meaning “to boast” sounds very similar to the English words “Tree New Bee.” Additionally, the individual Chinese symbols for the words tree, new and bee, when placed together, mean “to set a good example.” 

It’s a play on words within a play on words, a way for this all-Chinese team to blend its new and native languages.

* * *

Two boxes of Mother Bear’s pizza occupied the small lounge table where team Tree New Bee was draped across couches and chairs, settled in to watch their Hoosiers take on the Orange. 

It was the Sweet Sixteen, and IU was coming off an ugly win over Temple. The No. 1 seed needed to pull this one out. Tree New Bee’s brackets and pride depended on it. 

The Chinese basketball team was cheering for Cody and Yogi and Victor and Jordy, but they were studying the five-man formation that SU was executing almost perfectly. 

The two-three zone. 

“Syracuse is known to have one of the best zone defenses in the country,” Hogan said in practice just hours before. “Watch what they do tonight.” 

The team had invited Hogan to watch the game with them, but he planned to watch at his childhood Bloomington home with his parents. 

After halftime, the Hoosiers’ point deficit only expanded. Inside the Union Street Center Birch Hall lounge, tensions rose. Alvin, Paul, Jack and Will sat on the edge of their seats, eyes jerking back and forth as the small figures moved across the screen. On a couch perpendicular to theirs, Tobias flirted with a handful of girls that had joined the watch party, oblivious to the sixth banner that was slipping away from a hopeful campus.

As the final buzzer sounded on a deflated Bloomington, fans blamed officials and shed tears at Kilroy’s. Their brackets were trashed, but the disappointment was not the same for the international students whose crush on IU basketball was in its infancy. They didn’t grow up in households where Indiana basketball was a form of religion, where  relatives told back-in-the-day stories of Bob Knight and NCAA championships and dominance. 

As the Hoosiers crumbled, Tree New Bee was finally coming together. That night at practice they had learned two new plays, “Hoosier” and “Indiana.” They scrimmaged each other and stayed late to shoot around for fun. 

The following afternoon, Tree New Bee congregated in a computer lab to watch film of Syracuse’s two-three zone that handicapped their Hoosiers the night before. 

* * *

Aside from the Recreational Sports referees, Hogan Stanger was the only Caucasian at the Asian Student and Scholar Association basketball tournament. All around him, students, players and coaches spoke Chinese. 

He wasn’t phased. 

Wearing red IU basketball shorts and carrying a clipboard, the coach was looking for a win. He had watched Tree New Bee become a team. In just a few practices, they’d become friends. 

As a unit they stood along the sidelines, ready to play. Wearing purple jerseys bearing the golden letters “TNB,” the players sized up their competition. 

They would face Indiana Banana, a team wearing black and yellow, in their first game. 

Paul Li stepped up for tip-off. He launched from center-court and swatted the ball to a teammate. Tree New Bee was rusty at first, not scoring their first points until five minutes in. With only two ten minute halves and a running clock, the game moved quickly. 

With only four minutes left in the second half, the score stood 14-10, Tree New Bee. 

Indiana Banana didn’t score again the rest of the game. Tree New Bee went on an eight-point run. They had settled into a groove. 

Hogan yelled words of encouragement at his players. 

“There it is, baby!” 

The game ended 22-10 and the team was ready for more. 

“That was a huge win guys,” he said. “Tree New Bee on three... one, two, three... Tree New Bee!” they shouted together. 

With three pool-play games in the morning and a single-elimination tournament scheduled for the afternoon, the pace moved quick. 

After a slow first half in game two, Tree New Bee trailed by 6 with two minutes to go. Will sunk a three and peddled backward down the court, arm still in the air. With seconds left on the clock, will hit another field goal that he followed with a fist pump. 

Final score: 22-18. 

The team’s performance was beginning to match their tenacious name.   They huddled together again, and as Hogan began to give a game overview, a rumble began on the back left court. 

In the middle of a different game, one team’s crowd grew rowdy. Trash talking escalated to shoving, and within seconds at least 30 people were entangled in an all-out brawl. 

Whistles sounded for two minutes straight and Recreational Sports referees and employees pulled the angry participants off one-another. 

The guilty team was escorted off the court where they met police officers at the gymnasium entrance. 

With a short break before their next game, the team unloaded their sustenance: Smart Water, bananas and a bag of Dove chocolate and Kit Kats.

A court opened up, and they started toward the sidelines. As they began to warm up, a Recreational Sports employee came over to break the news. The tournament had been cancelled. It was policy. 

“We were onto something guys. We were cooking,” Hogan lamented. “Hey, we’re undefeated though.” 

Tree New Bee was disappointed. They had worked hard, and they thought they deserved to play. It wasn’t about the money prize. 

“It’s victory,” Will said.

Video: Meet Will Long

Is 'proficient' good enough?

Part Three: Language & Learning

Mufarrah Musaeva was discussing Uzbek dating culture in her class when a student asked whether couples in Uzbekistan talk about their sex lives with friends. Before she could answer, a student told her to “keep it PG.”

She didn’t understand the expression, so the student explained.

“I was so happy to learn,” said Musaeva, a graduate student studying English philology. “That is why I’m here.”

When she then told the class she and most Uzbek people are too shy to discuss intimate secrets with others, another student said, “So you don’t break the mold?”

She didn’t know what that meant either. 

Using slang and figurative speech is one aspect of English Musaeva said she’s still learning.

But she loves learning English, she said. She has studied the language for more than six years, four of which were at a world-class language school in Uzbekistan. A Fulbright scholar, Musaeva was selected to teach Uzbek language and culture at IU, but she said she wouldn’t have been ready without her extensive education.

She doesn’t know how international students without such preparation do it, she said.

Of the 6,015 international students at IU, more than 75 percent come from non-English speaking countries. Most of them don’t have the sort of education Musaeva had before coming here.

Using English in an academic setting is a distinctive challenge as part of an international students’s experience at IU. Without adequate English skills, some suffer socially and academically. Although the language is so important to their learning, there are international students who arrive here unprepared to use English in the academic setting, despite being determined proficient by examinations.

The Test of English as a Foreign Language is one exam IU requires prospective international students to pass before they can be considered for admission.

Like Musaeva, junior Yimei Chen studied English for years, too. But instead of attending a world-class university, Chen took mandatory English courses at her public school in China.

“We didn’t learn English as a tool,” Chen said. “It was just something to test us on.”

* * *

Chen said she discovered IU through its website. But before she could be admitted, she had to score well enough on the TOEFL.

She said her high school classes didn’t prepare her well enough and because she never used English outside of class, the speaking part was most difficult.

Chen’s friend Abby Peng, a sophomore finance major, said although she worked with an English tutor in China, the speaking portion was still difficult for her, too.

Peng sat among other students before an interviewer during the speaking test. “What’s your deepest regret?” the interviewer asked. Peng froze.

“I didn’t know the word ‘regret,’” Peng said. “But when I heard the other student’s answer, I understood what it meant.

“I told them my biggest regret was I didn’t prepare more for the test.”

Prospective international students who don’t have adequate TOEFL scores are encouraged to participate in IU’s Intensive English Program, IEP Scheduling and Testing Coordinator Beverly Rolfs said.

But the IEP is an academic limbo for many of the international students who pay for its classes.

* * *

When senior Jaeyun Kim first came to IU, he wasn’t an IU student.

“I was an IEP student,” Kim said. “My original plan was to study English and then go back to South Korea and continue college.”

Rolfs said students who participate in IEP aren’t admitted to the University, but are here to learn English in a way that prepares them to succeed at an American university. She said although IEP students pay fees for the program, they don’t pay tuition to the IU, so they don’t earn credit.

Kim said he came all the way to the U.S. to participate in IEP because he knew he needed to study in an English-speaking country to become fluent.

IEP was difficult and stressful, Kim said, and speaking English was his biggest problem. He said he didn’t speak any English before he arrived. The instructors were all American, none of whom spoke Korean.

“I didn’t get a lot of help from the classmates either because they were international students,” Kim said. “No one spoke any English.”

After completing IEP in nine months, Kim said he chose to stay at IU rather than return to South Korea. Although IEP taught him enough to pass the TOEFL and gain admission, he said his English was still lacking.

“It wasn’t enough to start U.S. college life,” Kim said. “But I had no other choice.”

* * *

Life inside the American classroom is sometimes very different from classes abroad. When international students are unprepared to communicate in that environment, social and academic problems abound.

Each of the five international students interviewed for this story said their classes at home involved less interaction between students and teachers.

Musaeva said her friend, who is an international student assistant instructor, was shocked when a student told her she was wrong in front of the class. She said her friend came from a place where students would never openly criticize their instructors.

“She really wasn’t ready for that,” Musaeva said.

The language school she attended in Uzbekistan offered a course that prepared students for teaching in the United States, Musaeva said, so she was ready when she got here. Musaeva said she suggests international student AIs take a course offered by Second Language Studies at IU, which also focuses on learning in the American classroom.

International students who are being taught instead of teaching might benefit from a similar class, junior Jia Yung Chai said. Before leaving Malaysia, much of his exposure to American classrooms came from American films.

“Before I came to the U.S., I wish I would’ve learned how to communicate better with native speakers,” Chai said. “We can’t learn if we can’t communicate with locals.”

Answering questions or offering his thoughts during class is very difficult, Chai said, because instructors and peers fail to understand him when he struggles to articulate.

Public speaking is what Yimei Chen, one of the students from China, said is her biggest fear when using English, adding she also didn’t realize students were expected to be more vocal in American classrooms.

“I have a lot of room to improve,” Chen said.

Writing in English is also a struggle for many international students, partly because citation conventions such as Modern Language Association style are alien concepts to students who come from places that have different cultural understandings of intellectual property. Chen said Chinese students might have issues with academic misconduct because of this misunderstanding.

“There are no strict restrictions on plagiarism in China,” Chen said.

The Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct is something Chen said she thinks most students don’t read, international or otherwise. 

Understanding what’s in the code is a problem for many students, and they aren’t all international, IU Dean of Student Ethics Jason Casares said. Most of students’ exposure to the code comes from courses’ syllabi, he added.

Casares said he didn’t know if a disproportionate number of academic misconduct cases were international students’. But he said for the first time, the Office of Student Ethics was invited to last year’s international student orientation to educate incoming students about academic conduct.

“That was highly successful,” Casares said. “We saw them all last summer.”

But for international students already on campus who haven’t been educated about the specifics of academic conduct at IU, a problem still remains. Chen said international students from China might struggle with plagiarism not only because of cultural differences with regards to cheating, but also because they didn’t write many essays at home in the first place. And that’s not only true for Chinese international students.

Kim said he seldom wrote essays in Korean, let alone in English.

“I have a lot of problems with writing,” Kim said. “I heard there’s a writing tutor service on campus, but I never use it.

“I feel like they would give me only general advice.”

* * *

Writing Tutorial Services doesn’t give general advice, but lessons that help students to grow as writers, WTS Peer Tutor Emma Vice said.

“I want to make people better writers,” Vice said. “We don’t proofread. Our number-one goal is to make the writing the best it can be.”

Painstakingly analyzing every clause and prepositional phrase doesn’t help students struggling with English achieve a better understanding, Vice said. But before she can help students write, she said she has to help them read assignments’ rubrics.

“One of the biggest struggles is simply understanding and meeting the demands of their assignment sheets,” WTS Director Jo Ann Vogt said.

Vogt said the majority of international students who seek help at WTS are well prepared to communicate in English and as time passes, their errors disappear.

But Vice said marketing is a problem.

“There are a lot of people who don’t know we exist,” she said.

Professors and AIs are their biggest promoters, especially in the elementary composition class, W131, she said.

“The first thing out of there mouths is usually ‘help me with grammar.’”

* * *

Grammar is less Kim’s concern when it comes to English than having a healthy social life with his American peers.

“I love American culture and people,” Kim said. “I really want to communicate with Americans.”

Early in his time at IU, loneliness, fear and stress were the norm, Kim said. Struggles with English inhibited his social life, consequently exacerbating those problems.

Kim said it would be great if international students were strong English users because their social experience at IU would improve and some of the friction between American and international student populations would subside. He said if Americans made more an effort to help international students, tensions would ease, as well.

But he said he doesn’t blame American students for being disinterested in being friends with international students; many are shy and aloof.

“International students need to make an effort,” he said.

Abby Peng said since she made more American friends, her English has improved.

For Musaeva, interacting with her American friends and students has been easier. She said she’s had some experiences that help her relate with American students. Books by Theodore Dreiser and Jack London were part of her education, authors American students likely read in high school, too.

After finishing her time at IU, Musaeva said she wants to stay in the United States. 

She’s passionate about two things: spreading her culture and learning English. The latter serves as a bridge.

“English has become a part of my life,” Musaeva said. “I want to be where English lives.”


'I was expecting something great’

Part Four: Finding Home

When freshman Amogh Kedia first stepped foot on campus, an IU employee told him there had been a mix-up. 

The University hadn’t assigned him a permanent dorm room. 

After traveling the 8,400 miles from his hometown in Hyderabad, India, Kedia was sent to the 10th-floor lounge in Forest Quad, Tower A. 

He and three other international students would call this room their home for their first two months of college. 

Four bunk beds and a few couches were crammed in the small overflow lounge. They had no lockers or space for privacy. 

Kedia and his Korean and Chinese lounge-mates were forced to live out of their suitcases. Not knowing who their roommates would be or where they would be moved to, they were unable to buy microwaves or other appliances. They were unable to settle in. 

International students represent 16 percent of all students in Residential Programs and Services housing. However, they comprised a disproportionate 36 percent of all students living in lounge housing this fall. 

Kedia expected to get what he paid for. He expected a stable home to help him with the transition to American life. 

RPS gave them no reason for their placement in overflow housing or any indication of how long they would be staying there.

Kedia paid a third-party agent to help submit his application and housing registration to IU. RPS sent housing reminder emails to Kedia’s new university email account, but he did not know how to access it. 

Kedia emailed RPS six different times for an explanation. He tried turning to his resident assistant, sophomore Aja Morrow.

“I didn’t have any answers, and I don’t think anyone else did,” Morrow said. “A lot of them really wanted to be out of there. They just wanted homes.”

Although RPS has decreased the total number of overflow housing students from last year, the proportion of international students has risen. 

International students are often overrepresented in overflow housing because of their tendency to miss housing deadlines, said Assistant Director for Housing Assignments Sara Ivey Lucas. 

Many of these students do not find out about their admission until just before the May 1 housing deadline, Lucas said. 

“International students have to work though getting their visa. They have to work out different financial pieces,” Lucas said. “They’re put a bit behind everyone else.”

The majority of international students won’t apply to IU until after January, Director of International Admissions Matt Beatty said. Although admissions officials work toward a quick turn-around, it takes longer to process international applications. It involves converting grade point averages and accounting for unique curriculum and English testing requirements. 

Admissions and RPS are separate university entities, often causing administrative tasks to take longer to complete. 

Similarly, many international students will also pay third party agents thousands of dollars to translate, edit and submit their application materials to U.S. universities.

Once admitted by IU, international students are often left to meet housing and orientation application deadlines without the help of an agent or translator.  

RPS sends emails every two to three weeks to all enrolled students with pending housing registration. But if international students have not confirmed their enrollment, or if they don’t know how to access their University email account, they won’t receive the reminders. 

International students are not given any special reminders or emails about deadlines, Lucas said. 

When it comes to housing, they are treated like all other students. 

Overflow housing was the first impression of IU for Kedia and his parents, who were reluctant to let him leave his home country. The family had paid for an agent to ensure that all forms were sent in. They invested in housing, tuition and travel fees.

“I was pissed,” Kedia said. “It costs a shit-ton of money to come here, and I was expecting something great.” 

* * * 

The University advocates for a diverse international experience, admitting more and more international students every year. Meanwhile, many in the international community are being placed into overflow lounges and also dealing with the eviction from a place they used to call home, the Leo R. Dowling International Center.  

Located on South Jordan Avenue, the center had served as the central hub for international student groups, conversation hours and social events since 1958. Last spring, the Office of International Services announced that the Leo R. Dowling International Center would be re-purposed.  

The Office of International Services and the Office of Overseas Study were forced to move out of their Franklin Hall office spaces in order to comply with University restructuring plans. 

The OIS combined with the Office of International Admissions, and both offices were moved to the Poplars building on Seventh Street. No space was created to serve as a new center for international students.

The Leo R. Dowling International Center’s name has not changed, but the building now houses the Office of Overseas Study. 

There are currently no plans to establish a replacement international center for students, Vice President for International Affairs David Zaret said. 

Sandy Britton, formerly the director of the international center, is now the associate director of international student life. Her new location in the Poplars Building is miles away from the southeast side of campus, where the highest concentration of international students lives.

The offices were consolidated to increase cooperation and space, said Rendy Schrader, director of International Student and Scholar Advising. The space in the Leo R. Dowling Center was more conducive to the size of the Office of Overseas Studies, Schrader said. Staffing and budget stayed fairly consistent, according to IU budget data. 

But for international student group leaders, it has meant the loss of a meeting location, and for some, a home. 

In early August 2012, the leaders of nine different international student groups sent a letter to IU President Michael McRobbie calling for a replacement location. 

Associate President of International Services Christopher Viers responded to the students’ letter. All previous international programming has continued, he said, but it will no longer be housed in one location. Events such as conversation hours and practice English tutorials have moved to residence halls and the Indiana Memorial Union. 

Viers said the move would help “facilitate greater interaction among international and domestic students.” 

However, Schrader said program attendance has decreased this year. 

Jose Toledo, a Peruvian student in the Intensive English Program, said the closure has fragmented international student groups.  

International student centers are uncommon among schools with high numbers of international students. Of the top 10 American academic institutions with the greatest number of international students, only two have international student centers, according to the university websites. 

IU is 11th on the list, and numbers of international students are climbing. When it comes to international student enrollment, the University has been ahead of the curve. Yet after 50 years, it is taking away the central location for these students. 

For Toledo, the lack of an international student center reflects poorly on the University. He visited the center at least once a week last year. The repurposing has meant his group, the International Latin American and Spanish Students Association, no longer has a place to meet.  

Toledo said his impression of IU before enrolling was based solely off the IU-Bloomington and OIS websites. The IU-Bloomington website directs students to read about the “more than 60 international student groups on campus.”  

Of the list of 34 international student group actually listed on the OIS page, 16 of the linked websites are either outdated, incorrect or result in an error. Of the 40 international student organizations listed on a flier at the OIS, only 20 of them are actively involved or have international student participation, Britton said. 

International student organization membership has become increasingly comprised of American students interested in studying abroad or learning a second language, Britton said. The focus on international student involvement has waned. 

Toledo said he feels the University often portrays an external image of the international student community that many students find does not match the reality on campus. 

“It’s two-faced,” Toledo said. “They call it multicultural diversity, but this is marketing. It results in paying, paying, paying, with little benefits. It’s a deception.” 

* * * 

Amid Welcome Week move-ins, Morrow, the 10th-floor RA, heard frustrated voices coming from a room down the hall.  

An international student, one of 11 on Morrow’s floor at the time, was attempting to explain to her American roommate how she wanted the beds arranged. 

The domestic roommate had requested that the beds be bunked vertically, but the international student had hoped for an L-shaped loft. 

“I had to go in there and find out what was causing them distress,” Morrow said. “I had them draw a picture.”

Communicating with some international students takes extra initiative. A handful of her international residents are outgoing and comfortable approaching her, but others tend to be more reserved and might fear she won’t understand them, she said. 

Morrow was not given any formal training on how to best communicate and engage international student residents, aside from a few tips, she said. 

“A lot of us RAs were blind-sided,” Morrow said. “We don’t really understand what they’re going through.” 

RPS does not organize facility-wide training on how to cater to international students, Director of Forest Residence Center Allyson Rafanello said, because the numbers of international residents vary from floor to floor. 

Despite Morrow’s efforts to ease resident communication, the culture and language barrier can become too difficult for some international and domestic roommates. One of Morrow’s international residents decided to switch dorm rooms in order to move in with a friend from her home country, Morrow said. 

The importance of making connections in an international community was one of the main themes present in McRobbie’s 2008 International Strategic Plan. 

“These (international) students find themselves working together on classroom projects, living in IU residence halls, studying in the libraries, enjoying student gatherings and attending the numerous intercultural and social events on campus,” the document states. “American and international students not only form friendships but also learn to understand more about one another’s cultural and social backgrounds.” 

This cross-cultural participation is seriously lacking on the IU campus, said Paul Chen, president of the Chinese Student and Scholar Association.  He said it is apparent among Chinese students, who make up about 50 percent of the international student population. 

The size of the population is part of the problem, Chen said, because it provides Chinese students with a comfortable safety net of similar friends who speak the same language. For many of them, IU is much more like an international program in their home country, he said. It’s like they never left China. 

Freshman Eryu Long, a Chinese student, lives on the 10th floor of the opposite wing of Forest, Tower B. She has a Chinese roommate and said she rarely speaks to American students on her floor. Long has enjoyed IU but has struggled to learn English. 

She said she feels that if she were to socialize with more American students, her English might be stronger. 

Interacting with students of different backgrounds is crucial to the freshman year experience, Morrow said. It requires an effort on behalf of domestic and international students, she said. 

“They only have four years here,” she said. “The earlier you’re exposed to it, the earlier you get used to it.” 

* * * 

A mixer at the start of the semester was the first time all of Morrow’s international students attended a floor activity. But by then, Kedia and his three international roommates from the lounge had moved out. 

Two months into the school year, after developing friendships on his Forest floor, Kedia was forced to move to a different dorm entirely — Eigenmann Hall. It took him about a month to make friends on his new floor, and he has now lost all contact with his Forest friends.   

Kedia, who attended an international boarding school in India, said he has had no problem socializing with American students. He gets along with his new roommate from Alabama, who came from a diverse high school. They immediately hit it off, and often skied together in the winter. 

But the same cannot be said about every international student experience, Kedia said. 

The transition presents different challenges for different personalities, cultures and levels of English proficiency. 

Not every international student has trouble engaging with American students. Not every international student lived in overflow housing. Not every international student struggles with language. 

The Office of International Services provides many students with academic and personal counseling. It offers assistance with visas, finances and other aspects of the international student transition. 

Students like Chen have found international student groups that facilitate community. 

But if IU hopes to continue to champion its international community, it must continue to improve the environment for its international students. 

“We need to push ourselves,” Chen said. “It’s our problem, but it’s also an IU problem.” 

Video: International Student Series: Day 4
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