Maryville University is working to expand its international reach, and no one knows that better than the University’s new Director of International Admissions Kirstin Kahaloa, who recently returned from a trip to the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
She’s part of a new group of admissions officials from eight schools, calling itself the Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota (MIM) group. Kahaloa traveled to the Philippines independently on behalf of Maryville, but visited the countries with the MIM tour, so that overseas schools could learn more about several Midwest institutions at once.
Currently, Maryville has about 90 international students, with China, Saudi Arabia and Kenya as the three top international countries that students come from.
Currently, more students from Asia study internationally than anywhere else in the world, and it seemed an obvious part of the world to focus more effort on student recruitment. Kahaloa said the U.S. admissions officials found that by traveling in a group, overseas secondary schools were able to devote more time to them. They visited 17 high schools where they were taken on tours and met with groups of students considering study in the United States. While some outside businesses also package tours for universities to recruit abroad, the new coalition of Midwest schools found they saved on the costs of traveling abroad by charting their own visits and going in a group.
Planning the international visits took some doing, “Every country has a different language, different holidays,” Kahaloa said. They also needed to be aware of when students might have exams, or other times when they couldn’t visit with the schools from the United States.
The Midwest representatives also visited with consulates abroad and Education USA advising centers, as they promoted higher education opportunities in the United States. In Jakarta, they visited one spot called the @America Center; inside an Indonesian mall, they passed through security and made presentations at an education advising center run by the U.S. government. “I think what’s happening in the world is that the U.S. Dept. of State, in order to educate about America, needs to be where people are. It’s less intimidating, and people learn like they would going to a museum,” she said.
They talked in each country and in many of the schools about why students might want to study in the Midwest and how the University’s application process works. Kahaloa said establishing new ties with schools abroad and with U.S. education liaisons overseas is an important step in encouraging more international students to study at Maryville.
“I didn’t have anyone say, `I know what Maryville is.’ That’s not a shock if they haven’t heard about us. How would they, if we haven’t actively recruited there?” Kahaloa said students she meets with internationally have many of the same questions students everywhere do. They want to know more about Maryville, the majors offered, what it provides that other schools might not. Students want to know if they’ll feel comfortable and connected if they study at Maryville.
Kahaloa notes that a strong presence of international students helps shape the campus. “Students learn about the world by having international students here. In a globalized world, students need to know how to communicate with others from around the world.”
The trip was grueling, Kahaloa said, after she logged about 20,000 miles by airplane to get to the sites. But Maryville will continue efforts to strengthen ties in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. She’s staying in touch with contacts by telephone and computer, but added there’s no substitute for building relationships in person. Overseas educators want Maryville to know about the work they’re doing, too. “We’re not just telling them about our school, we’re learning about theirs.”
Members of the Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota tour have found many other universities interested in the travel model they used. They recently presented about their joint travel at a NAFSA: Association of International Educators Region IV conference, held in late October in St. Louis. They’ve had additional requests to talk about their coalition to other groups. Other schools involved were the University of Missouri, Truman State University, Saint Louis University, St. Olaf College, St. Catherine’s University, the University of Iowa and Kirkwood Community College.