International Education Week (IEW) began on November 12th with the release of Open Doors, an annual report that provides data on study abroad and international student enrollment in the United States. Michigan State University ranks in the top 10 nationally for both international student enrollment and study abroad participation; placing in the #9 spot for international student enrollment and the #4 spot for study abroad participation. IEW and Open Doors highlight the significance of international students and the importance of study abroad in the context of American higher education. Since IEW is nationally recognized as a week for students who are studying in countries outside of their own, we decided to sit down with Peter Briggs, director of the Office for International Students and Scholars, to talk about the topic. Not only does he give us the history of internationalization on college campuses, but he also shares why international students are important to MSU.

“[International Education Week] gives us a chance to celebrate international students, it gives us a way to show the importance of our students,” says Briggs.

The History

In 1953, the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS) was established at MSU. It didn’t take long after its start for the university to realize the importance of the office and the level of influence the office would have at MSU and across the country.

Since 1961, there have only been three directors of OISS. “Jerry Benson served as director from 1961-1983, David Horner took over in ’83, and I have been here since 2001,” Briggs says. “That’s a lot of stability in an office, it speaks for this is a good place to work, and it shows that MSU supports international students.”

Universities did not always see the importance of establishing an office for international students and scholars. Homer Higbee, assistant dean of international studies and programs in the 1950s, was one of the first to consider the need for such an office.

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“He was the first person in the country to study international students of scholars program as a profession,” Briggs says. “He went around to all the universities in the country asking: ‘Do you have an office? If you have an office, where is that office located? Is the person faculty? Are they staff? Where are they located within the organization?’”

Since that time, international student populations grew rapidly on college campuses nationwide. This increased the need to develop and provide support services for international students and scholars. Briggs noted that OISS began asking, “How are we treating students? How do we pay attention to them?” Homer Higbee, by then a national leader in international education, was also the creator of the Community Volunteers for International Programs (CVIP) at MSU. This volunteer organization provided support services such as a coat closet for newly arrived international students and paired students with local families. The organization grew to provide programs that support students and has become strongly connected and involved with the Greater Lansing community.

“We have recognized the importance of internationalizing the campus, and the importance of knowing how hard it is to be an international student,” says Briggs.

The Programs

When asked what the key programs of OISS are, Briggs says you have to look at it from a different angle. “Let’s look at it this way: What do the students need? What do they want?”

Knowing that students come to MSU with academic goals to acquire a degree, they are also in need of academic, social, cultural, linguistic, and financial support. “There are a lot of different levels of helping and supporting our students,” says Briggs. “We have a plan for each of those.”

In order to help students acclimate to campus and academic life, orientation becomes one of the most important programs at OISS. “It is very intentional how we welcome students. It’s very high-touch,” Briggs says. “Our job is to make people feel welcomed and connected. You can’t study when you feel lonely.”

Getting students the help they need requires collaboration. OISS works with other departments on campus to assist students with academic advising, health issues, and many other relevant topics. The office is well connected to university resources, and is perhaps one of the few offices on campus whose work intersects with nearly every area of academic and student life.

The Uniqueness

According to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors Report, MSU was ranked in the top 10 for international student enrollment. In the 2012-2013 academic school year, MSU hosted 6,759 international students on campus.

When asked what makes MSU so appealing, Briggs explained, “East Lansing is a small college town with a very large significant university which has an international mission. Michigan State University can be seen as a safe, affordable, caring and welcoming community. All of these factors together have given us a good reputation across the globe as an international university.”

At this point, Briggs does not see the number of international students growing much more. As MSU receives more applications, however, the admissions process may become more selective. With the number of Chinese international undergraduate students increasing dramatically over the past six years, this has played a large role in the increase of the total number of international students at MSU. But, Briggs says that Nigeria, Indonesia, and Brazil are all emerging markets.

“The quality of the students we have right now is good, so it’s only going to get better,” Briggs says. “We would love to be a more diversified community. Diversifying is healthy for the university.”

One of the ways in which MSU is diversifying its international community is through the MasterCard Foundation. MSU was awarded this opportunity to provide full tuition scholarships to undergraduate and master’s degree students from Sub-Saharan Africa. From the $100 million initiative, MSU was awarded $45 million over a span of 9 years to bring 185 students through the MSU MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program.

When asked why the MasterCard Foundation choose to award MSU with the largest portion of funding, Briggs noted that, “We became the thought leaders in this process. Other schools such as Stanford, Berkley, Duke, and Arizona, will have the remaining amount divided amongst them,” Briggs says. “But, that really says something about MSU.”

How to Become More Culturally Aware

With the increasing trends of globalization, International Education week becomes significant in highlighting the importance of international education and exchange. Within the U.S. Briggs reflects that “any list of United State values will show that most Americans are not passionately interested in other cultures—it’s ranked far down their list. That is kind of a sad statement to make. So when you ask what people can do, it starts with, frankly, curiosity. The opportunity to meet, travel and develop relationships with people across the world can be transformational.”

Briggs says that he is very fond of the word “glocal”—merging the global and the local, noting that “it’s possible to be passionate about MSU, including our #1 ranked basketball team, and be equally passionate about immersing yourself in cultures that are different from your own.” Cultivating curiosity and embracing the diversity of MSU’s student and scholar body is the perfect way to start a global or “glocal” journey.

Are you ready to begin your journey? Here are some great ways to get started.

Office for International Students and Scholars
OISS Weekly Coffee Hour
Office of Study Abroad
Community Volunteers for International Programs (CVIP)
MSU’s Intercultural Aide Program
MSU’s International Volunteer Action Corps (I.V.A.C.)