Far from home

The number of registered international exchange students at Southern Oregon University this fall term is projected to be the school's highest ever, thanks to ramped-up efforts to attract students aboard.

Arriving in Ashland last week from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Fateen Ariff, 24, said she is enjoying the beginning of her two-year stint at SOU.

"It's not what I thought it would be like, but in a good way," said Ariff, a sophomore who's majoring in English literature with a minor in psychology. "I like the way of American studying and learning. It's more well-rounded."

The school recruited about 54 new international students for this academic year, up from about 30 new recruits last academic year, said Jim Klein, provost and vice president of academic affairs for SOU. A total number of international students won't be available until enrollment numbers are released the fourth week of school, but it's expected to top 100, officials said.

"In the last two years, we've sort of ramped up our recruiting of international students," said Klein, who has traveled to Vietnam, India and South Korea to recruit students over the last year. "We have students that come from all over the world. That's one of the reasons why our international program and the experience it brings our domestic students is so rich."

The school's international student population comprises 24 countries. SOU has established agreements with other schools in many of those countries to make the transfer process easier for students who want to study overseas.

The university's oldest partnership is with the University of Guanajuato, in Guanajuato, Mexico, which extends back 42 years. Another, with South Korea's Dankook University, is over 20 years old, said Klein.

Seeking out those types of partnerships and an increased effort to recruit overseas have allowed SOU to bolster its international student population.

"Having international students on our campus enriches the quality of the educational experience we offer all students," said Jon Eldridge, vice president of student affairs for SOU. "It's a part of our mission to prepare our students for responsible global citizenship, and this is a great way for us to facilitate that."

In fall 2010, Oregon universities saw a 20 percent increase in international student enrollment over the previous four years. Like SOU, both Oregon State University and University of Oregon are expecting a record number of international students this year.

"There is a lot of competition, because many people want to come here and study," said Tokos Murase, 20, of Akita City, Japan. "It's been very interesting for me, I like it, but the school is so different from Japan ... I will have to get use to it."

Murase, who is majoring in global studies, said she wants to learn more about American culture during her stay.

"One thing I want to know," said Murase, who lives in the Cascade Complex, "at night, why do the girls leave their doors open in the hall?"

"We always close them to study, in Japan, so maybe I will figure that out while I'm here," she said.

After hearing stories from a few of her friends who experienced prejudice when they traveled to the U.S. as exchange students, Ariff said she initially was nervous to come, but she hasn't seen anything like that so far.

"Here, when you meet a stranger, they smile and say 'hello,'" she said. "That's not the way people in Malaysia are, not to say that they're not nice, but everyone in Ashland has been very friendly."

Ariff, who lives in SOU's Cascade Residential Complex, said she will use a good portion of her down time traveling the country.

"Ashland is gorgeous. Here it's so green and there is so much open space," said Ariff. "But I can't wait to travel and experience the different culture, and see what things are like everywhere."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.

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