International students from Asia filling more seats at UW

Hao Yu, 24, and Sixuan He, 26, international graduate students from China outside UW's Suzzalo Library. They're two of over 2600 Chinese international students currently enrolled at UW. (Photo by Valeria Koulikova)Huge numbers of international students are making their mark on UW. But is Seattle making enough of a mark on them?  

Seattle is proud to be a global city. And a growing population of international students is another reason to add to the list.

Twenty percent of the incoming freshman at UW this year were international students. The total number of international students has grown by more than 50% just in the last two years, to almost six thousand this year.

Over 80 percent of these new students are coming from Asia, with China, Korea and Taiwan sending the biggest numbers. Just six percent are from Europe.

It’s no mystery why the students want to come. UW is among the top ranked universities in the world and its accomplishments in fields like science and computer engineering appeal to students worldwide. Seattle also offers a lot of potential post-graduation employers, like Microsoft and Boeing and even UW itself.

And then there’s the vampires.

“One of the reasons I chose UW is because it’s in the top 50 of all the colleges in the world. I love the city itself, too. I love that it is an international city, love the environment, and vampires. I love the vampire movies that come from here,” said Hao Yu, a 24 year old graduate student from China, referring to the globally popular Twilight films set on the Olympic Peninsula. “I’m still waiting to meet one.”

A Chinese international student sports a Panda costume while representing her country at the 2013 FIUTS CultureFest. (Photo by Valeria Koulikova)
A Chinese international student sports a Panda costume while representing her country at the 2013 FIUTS CultureFest. (Photo by Valeria Koulikova)

The university makes a big effort to help students assimilate into the UW community. When they first come here, international students are introduced to FIUTS (The Foundation for International Understanding Through Students) where they meet other international students from different countries.

FIUTS organizes a lot of events to help international students integrate and meet new people, like last month’s CultureFest, where students from all around the world are able to showcase their nations to the whole community.

“FIUTS and student organizations in general put on a lot of events and opportunities for the international students to get involved in,” Veronika Korovianska, 19, student from Ukraine, said. “Sometimes it feels like there is even too much going on and it’s not physically possible to be everywhere at once. You wish that there was no school work, so you could have more time to explore the life around here.”

But the increased number of international students raises questions, especially with so many coming from the same part of the world: who do the foreign students surround themselves with? Do they try to break away from their comfort zone or do they just spend time with students from their home countries?

Hao and her roommate Sixuan He, 26 a graduate student from China, met online on one of the Chinese social networks before arriving in Seattle. Now, they are close friends and rent an apartment together. Although, they feel like they might not be speaking English enough during the days except for in-class discussions, it’s easier for them to unwind in the company of other students from China.

“You feel a lot of in common with other Chinese students, feel more comfortable,” Hao said. “After talking about music and movies it’s hard to find other topics to talk about with Americans, so it starts to feel awkward for both sides.”

If you have so many people from your own country in classes, clubs, and other social gatherings, one can see how it is almost intuitive to become friends with them. Being so far from home, it feels almost inevitable to want to come back home after classes and be able to speak your own language with people who share your culture.

Thibaut Labarre, from France, graduated from UW in December and found a job at Amazon as a software development engineer. (Photo by Valeria Koulikova)
Thibaut Labarre, from France, graduated from UW in December and found a job at Amazon as a software development engineer. (Photo by Valeria Koulikova)

The majority of international students at UW say they hope to find a job and stay here after graduation. That makes meeting local people and putting down roots all the more crucial.

Korovianska came here in the fall quarter of 2012 for a one-year long program. At first, when everything seemed scary and confusing, she tried seeking out Russian speakers on campus. She was involved with a Russian student organization and most of her days spent conversing in Russian.

But she soon realized that she was going about it all wrong.

“It felt like home. And I realized that’s not why I came here. There is no place for growth if you don’t step away from your comfort zone,” Veronika said. “Just this one year adds up to the whole 18 years of my life, being able to communicate with so many different cultures.”

Regardless of how successful they are getting outside of their comfort zone, the majority of the foreign students seem to agree that Seattleites are uniquely willing to spare time to help a new comer.

“People here are more open to differences. It’s okay to be different,” says Thibaut Labarre, 23, a former UW student from France who now works at Amazon. “The way people dress, speak, communicate. It’s okay to have a different approach to life.”

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