JOHNSTOWN - Hundreds of students come from overseas to study at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, and college officials say they aren't improving only themselves but the campus and community as a whole.
"The international students we have here at FMCC add a lot to our campus and [it] allows students from the surrounding counties to meet other people from all around the world," President Dustin Swanger said. "Seeing what it's like to live in a small-town American culture is also a neat way to bring a world understanding to the international students on campus."
Swanger said the college has increased its recruiting efforts to bring more diversity to the FM campus in the coming years.
Instructor Rachael Mason talks with first-year international students this week in an English-as-a-second-language class at FM. (The Leader-Herald/Levi Pascher)
The international students at FM come from all over the world, but most are from Asia. The top countries represented on campus are China, including Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, but the current student body also includes people from Europe, Africa and South America, said Arlene Spencer, FM's?director of international student and?ESL?programs .
"FMCC has been recruiting international students for a long time, and our caring, personalized service is well known around the world," Spencer said. "I travel abroad a couple times per year and give presentations to potential students, parents, secondary-school officials, U.S. embassy staff and others influential in a student's educational planning to study in the U.S."
The college also has looked at different international markets such as Great Britian.
New figures show international enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities grew nearly 6 percent last year, driven by a 23-percent increase from China, even as total enrollment was leveling out. The value of different perspectives and the global vibe international students bring to campuses across the nation certainly helps the desire to increase recruiting efforts.
But there's no doubt what else is driving the trend: International students typically pay full out-of-state tuition and aren't awarded financial aid.
Public universities hit hard by state funding cuts "really are starting to realize the tuition from international students makes it possible for them to continue offering scholarships and financial aid to domestic students," said Peggy Blumenthal, senior counselor at IIE, the private nonprofit that publishes the annual "Open Doors" study.
International students at FMCC pay $3,444 per semester just for classes, which doesn't include the additional $3,195 for housing and $1,550 for a meal plan, plus the money needed for books and supplies, College Bursar Kathleen Smith said.
Students who live in the two local counties only pay $1,722 per semester for tuition at FMCC.
"[International students] also shop locally and contribute to the local economy in a variety of ways," Spencer said.
She said faculty members at community colleges are devoted to their students and provide a safe, secure classroom environment. The college is also small enough to give each student specialized attention and a more personable experience that many wouldn't receive at a larger university.
While the international students do help significantly with the financial state of the local economy and the college itself, they do learn and experience a variety of new things while in America.
For FM, being a part of the State University of New York system, which has a strong reputation around the world, is a great asset to the college and a feather in the student's cap after graduation.
During their first semester, international students are enrolled in a semester-long orientation class in which they review U.S. culture and how best to adjust to a U.S. college environment. FM also has a full-time English-as-a-second-language program that assists the students with their language learning.
However, once the international students overcome their first semester, the college often finds that they excel and end up being hired as peer tutors themselves - closing the loop and becoming role models for others, Spencer said.
A first-year science major from Hong Kong, Nicki Liu said the study atmosphere at the college is nice because it is quiet and the library is open late to allow students to get work done at their convenience.
Dongdong Liu, a first-year student from China majoring in finance, said the teachers at FM are patient and kind.
Second-year student Sunghan Jung, from South Korea, agreed the teachers are easy to communicate with and ask questions.
He said the interaction between students and teachers is definitely different because in Korean schools, asking questions in class is considered rude.
"They regard it as being a little disrespectful to the people who teach them. Whereas here in America, students actively get involved into discussions in class," Jung said. "Personally, I think that is the best part of studying in American colleges because that is what makes you think critically about whatever subjects you are faced with."
He said he was surprised at the diversity of the United States the first time he came here, about a year and a half ago.
"It took me a while to get used to the pluralism in terms of race, religion and so on," he said. "Now, I think it is one of the good things about living in America because it doesn't make you feel weird or foreign even if you're from somewhere else."
Many of the students are active in different clubs and activities on and off campus. Several international students took advantage of the bus trip provided by the college to Boston last weekend.
Xing Chen Liu, a first-year management major from China, said she enjoys nature walks in the Adirondacks.
She said the natural environment is different here and the air is cleaner in Johnstown that in her hometown. She explained in China's big cities are dirty and densely populated.
"I like walking the roads and seeing the scenes [here]; it makes me feel very good," Xing Chen Liu said.
Another first-year management major from China, Stephanie Feng, said she knew about FM because her brother attends the college, and she now lives with him in an apartment in Gloversville.
Other international students said they attended the English Institution in China, which is connected to FMCC and found out about the college through it.
All of the international students interviewed this week said they had a difficult time adapting to the food in the U.S. because it tends to be cooked in a lot of oil or uses too much sugar. The portions also made adapting to American cuisine difficult.
"Fast food is American food," Stephanie Feng said with a laugh. "We have that at home, but it is something we eat only when we have to or [are] busy with things."
The international students said during the holiday break and between semesters they will either take classes provided by the college to get ahead or go visit other family in New York City.
"I was busy taking summer classes over the last summer," Jung said. "For the next summer, I will probably go back home since I'll be graduating by then."
"Everyone of them has a dream for the future, and FMCC is the first step in that dream. It is an amazing journey we take together as they grow and develop as young adults," Spencer said. "We are bringing the world to Fulton and Montgomery counties, and we are sharing what is best about America with the international students. They will grow up to be leaders professional, educational and maybe even political in their home countries when they return and the experience they have now will help shape their decisions for the future."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Levi Pascher can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.