By Liz Spano, Arts Editor
Josephine Wong decided to attend ACU simply because her sister did. However, before she could attend, she had to speak with an agent; fill out the application form; apply for a visa; go through the process of an interview; complete questions about her parents’ financial stability; and finally, arrange a flight to the United States. It all sounds complicated, but Wong said it was a fairly simple process. The more difficult adjustments came when she began attending a university thousands of miles away from her home in Hong Kong.
For an international student like Wong, applying to and attending ACU involves more than it does for an American student. International students must adjust to an unaccustomed culture, language and everyday lifestyle in America. The university not only makes a constant effort to enrich ACU’s campus by recruiting international students, but it also helps these students make adjustments to life in Abilene once they are here.
ACU’s international recruiting program officially began in 1986, when Ted Presley, former anthropology professor, was hired full time to establish a recruiting program at the university. Because a full-time recruiting staff was not a financial possibility before this time, Presley had to pioneer the program on his own.
“I had to figure it out myself, plowing new ground as they say in farming,” he said. “We didn’t have any precedence in anything and no models to follow.”
By the spring of 1986, Presley had succeeded in recruiting one student from Singapore, soon followed by more Singaporean students, since ACU was one of the only universities that had established a constant presence in that area at the time, Presley said. By 1995, 30 international students were attending ACU.
Currently, 217 international students are enrolled at ACU from countries across the globe, and recruiting efforts at this time are focused mainly in Central America and Mexico.
Compared to other private universities in the country, ACU is ahead of its time when it comes to recruiting, said Steve Gist, director of international recruiting.
“It’s interesting that a small West Texas school is ahead of the curve in that way,” he said. “We were proactively recruiting international students long before schools of all types were doing it.”
Although Gist said the university has no formal recruiting goal at this time, ACU’s efforts to recruit international students complement the university’s 21st Century Vision of educating students for service and leadership throughout the world.
“It kind of helps us all to learn more about ourselves and grow in our understanding of ourselves and other people,” Gist said. “[International students] really allow us to see their cultures and different aspects of their cultures.”
Daniel Garcia, who recruits minorities within the United States, agrees having international students on campus is a positive experience.
“If [international students] have an environment where they interact with people of different cultures and also a Christian environment, when they go out, they are going to be those agents of change that make a difference and embrace indiscrimination,” he said.
Garcia said the current goal for recruiting also complements the university’s former Centennial Vision. The Centennial Vision stated a more specific goal of 25 percent diversity, which is a constant goal recruiters are working toward, he said.
In the recruiting process, someone must first create and develop relationships with people and organizations in other countries that will promote the university and raise awareness to students seeking a college education. This includes visiting bilingual high schools, government supported offices, alumni and commissions agents, which work solely to connect universities to potential students.
After students show interest, they must complete the application process and SAT/ACT test standards that any student is required to do before they are admitted to the university.
However, if students are accepted to the university, they still may not be able to attend. To immigrate to America, students must apply for a visa, which usually costs about $300. This is sometimes a difficult task because the U.S. consulate is wary of immigrants coming to the U.S. for purposes other than studying. Some students travel far and repeatedly apply for visas, only to be denied and forced to remain in their country, Gist said.
Another state department requirement is that students show the university a bank statement that proves they have enough money to cover one year of tuition. Since some students come from unstable financial situations, this causes a challenge and potentially erases the chance for those students to study in the U.S., Gist said.
Gist mentioned other factors, such as the university’s lack of financial resources and small size compared to state schools, that make recruiting a challenge for ACU. Also, political issues in the U.S. or the student’s county at the time he or she is applying also could affect the chances the student has of coming to America, Gist said. The university’s international student enrollment declined significantly after the terrorist attack Sept. 11 because of tightened U.S. consulate security.
Garcia also mentioned challenges he faces with recruiting Latin Americans in the U.S.
“There are social challenges in minority groups,” Garcia said. “Because of the legacy of discrimination and race in the United States, they still have fewer opportunities to grow academically and economically, so that’s a challenge.”
Once a student is at ACU, more challenges arise for both the student and the university as the student adjusts to life in the U.S. Both George Pendergrass, director of Multicultural Enrichment, and Laura Blake, coordinator of International Students Services, work solely to help students adjust to these changes.
After students are accepted at ACU, Blake contacts them and communicates throughout the entire recruiting process to help with transportation and all of the small, but important, issues they might have, she said.
“I don’t think there are as many troubles adjusting emotionally as there are just logistical issues like transportation, healthcare, insurance, how to get a job and taxes; those things that would be confusing for anyone,” Blake said.
Pendergrass also helps students adjust to life on the ACU campus by organizing activities and programs to make international students feel like they are more at home, Pendergrass said.
“I’m trying in whatever way I can not only to make their stay comfortable, but to [help them] acclimate to the culture of Abilene,” Pendergrass said. “I think it’s a job that’s much bigger than me; it’s a job we can all participate in.”