Celine Santos doesn’t really mind when her American friends ask the inevitable questions about what it was like to grow up in Thailand.
“People will sometimes ask if we had the Internet there. Or they’ll ask if I lived in a hut,” she says, laughing. In fact, Santos, a senior psychology major, grew up in a condo in central Bangkok, near the busy malls and buzzing nightlife of one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. “I don’t get offended or anything. I see it as a learning experience—my chance to help them learn.”
That’s the way it works for Elmhurst’s international students. They come to the College for a world-expanding education, and in the process, they end up helping to broaden horizons for their fellow students, too.
Santos is part of the biggest cohort of international students to study at the College in decades. Her class of 2013 includes 12 international students; overall, international students at Elmhurst represent 26 countries on six continents. As a group, they have helped shape campus life, taking on leadership positions in student organizations, thriving academically and adding their diverse cultural backgrounds to the campus mix.
“We’ve never had this kind of group together,” said Alice Niziolek, Elmhurst’s associate director of international education and international student services. “They’ve made a big impact on campus.”
Santos, for example, is president of the College’s chapter of the International Club and Phi Beta Delta, the honor society for international scholars. And she says that part of her role on campus is to give students a glimpse into how the rest of the world thinks and lives. “It’s my duty to teach people about my culture,” she said. “It’s all about cultural awareness.”
That, Niziolek said, is good news for other Elmhurst students, who benefit from the exchange of cultures that happens on campus.
“Our international students have a lot to share,” Niziolek said. “They give us a view onto the rest of the world, onto social differences.”
The College wastes little time in making its international students feel at home. The welcome begins the minute they get off the plane, when Niziolek is likely to be there to greet them. International students attend new-student orientation during the week before classes begin, just like their American classmates. But in the ensuing weeks, they also may attend a series of workshops presented by the Center for Professional Excellence, on topics ranging from U.S. classroom culture to campus safety. Elmhurst College staff from the various student-services offices are available to help them with questions about government regulations, money matters and wellness.
And if international students have questions that only another student could answer, they get help there, too. Not long after they arrive at Elmhurst, they meet peer mentors—fellow international students, or students who have studied abroad, who can help international students make the transition to American campus life.
Niziolek said that the new arrivals are grateful for the attention to detail. “They are usually just so excited to be here,” she said. “We hear from them how much they appreciate it.”
Some international students from the Class of 2013 plan to return to their home countries to launch careers there. Others will stay close to Elmhurst, at least for a while, after graduation.
Morrison Stewart, an international business and finance major who grew up in Taiwan and Hawaii, said he plans to stay in the Chicago area and hopes to become a U.S. citizen.
“I call America my home now,” he said. “I feel comfortable here now. I like it here.”
But no matter where they go after graduation, Santos said the experience of studying at Elmhurst gave her and her classmates a richer understanding of what the world has to offer.
“You come to the States to get a better education so you can pursue what you want to in life,” she said. “But it also makes you appreciate your own background more.”