When Lauren Harford and Daisy Jennings arrived at the University of Mary Washington last summer, a small gesture made a big difference. Center for International Education (CIE) Director Jose Sainz personally escorted the roommates to purchase a few English comforts – a kettle, tea and biscuits – after an unexpected doctor’s visit for Harford.
“I’m beyond grateful for the care I got thousands of miles from home,” said Harford, a University of Reading student who came from Great Britain in August to spend a year at UMW. “I knew then I’d be in good hands at Mary Washington.”
More than 50 students from across the globe – twice as many as this time last year – are studying at UMW this semester. During International Education Week, Nov. 15 to 19, we celebrate faces from faraway places – Fiji and France, Egypt and Ethiopia, Nepal and Nigeria, Scotland and Saudi Arabia. After quarantines, lockdowns and COVID protocols due to the global pandemic, they’re here to experience life at an American college. It’s an all-around cultural win.
“You can bring a piece of the world to your campus,” Sainz said, “especially at a time when domestic students are unable or reluctant to travel.”
CIE recruits through EducationUSA, a U.S. State Department network that promotes American universities overseas. Like Americans, international students – most are here to pursue a degree; about a quarter plan to stay for a single semester or academic year – often secure scholarships to cover the cost of attending college in the U.S. But CIE also focuses on educating them about what to expect at Mary Washington. If the school isn’t the right fit, they’ll transfer, Sainz said. The key is finding students looking for a small liberal arts university where they can connect with faculty and peers.
UMW’s Men’s Rugby also has increased its overseas outreach, with 22 student-athletes from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Fiji and South Africa. That’s why Adam Thomson, a graduate education student from Scotland came to UMW as a freshman. Homecoming games quickly became his favorite events. “Seeing my friends, guys I played with who have since graduated, professors and other people in the stands cheering us on is something I’ll never forget.”
If students think they’d like to pursue an overseas experience, Modern Languages and Literatures Visiting Language Coordinator Leire Flor Olabarria tells them to go for it. “Don’t even think about it. Just do it,” said Olabarria, who’s also a student at a Mary Washington partner institution, University of Deusto in Spain.
Freshman Nutthaya Noikate, who came from Thailand to earn a business administration degree, said she finds UMW courses rigorous and professors “approachable and helpful.” “My English is improving every day, and I’m having a blast making friends, especially after two years under quarantine.”
Masuda Omarova discovered Mary Washington through her sister, who studied here last year. A computer science major at ADA University in Azerbaijan, Omarova is learning languages like Arabic, something she may not have been able to do back home.
For Elena De Fazio, who studies international affairs at Italy’s Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore de Milano, the appeal was spending a semester at a school an hour south of D.C. Teaching fellow UMW students about her Italian culture was an added bonus, she said.
“I’ll soon have to leave,” De Fazio said, “but I’ll always carry my time at Mary Wash in my heart.”
The Center for International Education is working to increase diversity in and access to study abroad opportunities at UMW by promoting the Beyond the Classroom Endowment. The endowment is designed to encourage high-impact learning beyond the traditional classroom experience and support such initiatives throughout the University. A quarter of endowment returns are planned for use in meeting Mary Washington’s study abroad goals by helping minimize financial barriers and create flexibility for providing financial assistance to students in need.