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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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Why international student interest is shifting nationally

While the number of Indian international students has risen steadily over recent years, there has been an overall decrease in the number of Chinese students enrolled in U.S. schools. (Nathan Rich)

Aaryan Sabharwal is a current sophomore from Mumbai at Tulane University on the pre-med track, and was initially drawn to the flexibility within the field of medicine in the United States. His reading of “A Streetcar Named Desire” in his high school English class first set his sights on New Orleans, and then Tulane.

“If you want to do medicine in India, you’ve got to make up your mind sophomore year, high school,” Sabharwal said. “I just didn’t then.”

Sabharwal attended international schools in Mumbai and said he doesn’t feel that much is different now living in America. 

“It really wasn’t a big deal for me to go abroad. It was pretty much expected, where I’m from, out of my friends, my school,” he said. In his community, especially, he expects the trend to remain the same.

National trends have shown shifts in international undergraduate student enrollment, specifically from India and China, the two leading countries of origin for foreign students in the U.S. While the number of Indian international students have risen steadily over recent years, there has been an overall decrease in the number of Chinese students enrolled in U.S. schools. Like universities across the nation, Tulane has begun to see its impacts.

Dressie Fan, senior program manager at the Center for Global Education at Tulane, has worked for 12 years across U.S. and Australian admissions departments. According to Fan, last year marked the first decline in Chinese student enrollment, following years of a slowing increase in enrollments. 

A Tulane sophomore from Shanghai, Kunran Zhao, said he witnessed this trend on a smaller level in his high school. 

“I have a friend who transferred to boarding school in the States for one year in his freshman year of high school, and then transferred back, started high school again because he decided to end up staying in China for college,” Zhao said. “I think COVID, and a lot of other international, political tensions likely contributed.” 

Fan said economic decline due to COVID-19, student safety and career development could be possible explanations for the decline in Chinese student enrollment. 

“The U.S. is always the most expensive destination,” Fan said. “It’s too expensive compared to other countries like Australia, the U.K. or other Asian countries.”

While students are still leaving China to study abroad, they may choose to attend university elsewhere. Chinese students studying in the United States also see decreasing returns on their investment in higher education abroad, Fan said. 

“American returnees used to be really popular talents. Now because the number is so large, they’re not anymore,” Fan said. The majority of international students studying abroad are motivated by educational opportunity and cross-cultural experience, according to Fan.

Sabharwal said his past two years at Tulane have been an “enjoyable experience.” Despite the 25-hour travel times to and from home and adjusting to the time difference every four months, he said he appreciates the community he has found and life in a city with such a unique culture. 

“For the summer, you’re home, you’re in a completely different world. Three months later, you’re back here. Living between two worlds, it’s pretty cool,” Zhao said. 

Zhao said he enjoys traveling to different destinations within the U.S., and looks forward to traveling to Mexico this upcoming spring break through a Tulane-sponsored trip.

Tulane is not always the perfect fit for everyone. 

“I know other international students around me don’t really enjoy it as much or maybe found the social scene too intense,” Zhao said. “Being an international student adds on [to challenges of college] because of the language barrier and the cultural differences.”

Fan said it is important to create an “international student-friendly environment.” Tulane has 1,335 international students. Zhao finds the international student community to be relatively close and references Tulane’s various multicultural student organizations as places where members of the international community have found their own versions of “home.” These include the Tulane Chinese Students and Scholars Association, the Korean Student Association and the Asian American Student Union. 

John DePriest, instructor of English for academic and professional purposes, sees value in both supporting the international student community at Tulane and encouraging them to branch out. 

“All kinds of students may feel a tendency to cluster with students from similar backgrounds. Classes [with both international and domestic students] help people break out of their pre-established social circles and interact with people from different backgrounds,” DePriest said. 

Zhao describes his relationship with other international students at Tulane as unique because he has social and political discussions he doesn’t typically have with his friends back at home or from the United States.

Graduation poses new challenges for international students. The Department of Homeland Security sets restrictions for visa-carrying students continuing education in the United States. Postgraduation, Sabharwal said he expects to only be able to apply to around 30 medical schools in the country. Still, he said he’s willing to take his chances. 

Despite national trends, on campus there are factors Tulane may still be able to control, perhaps following the model of other schools with higher diversity. 

Fan said Tulane could issue more scholarships to international students to make study abroad more equitable, promote brand campaigns abroad to increase interest throughout Asia and shift towards global education rather than America-centric teaching. 

“As an American university, if you want to become a global international university, there’s a lot you can change,” Fan said. “Look at the world, [at] many other international elements that are adding to the teaching and academic experience.”

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