By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
Kokomo — Fifteen Saudi Arabian students have enrolled at Indiana University Kokomo since August 2012, which is welcome news for an institution that’s made fostering diversity a priority, university officials said.
“This is bringing the world to our students,” said Kathy Parkison, interim vice chancellor for academic affairs at the university.
The goal is to prepare students to live and work in a diverse, global economy, according to the university’s strategic plan for the next three years.
As part of that, IU Kokomo has plans to develop a diversity web page for the campus, enhance international travel courses, increase student participation in study abroad programs and increase enrollment of international students.
Ideally, Parkison said, every student at IU Kokomo would study abroad for at least one semester.
“Both of my daughters studied abroad,” she said. “It was a life-changing experience.”
Parkison said she realizes that many of the university’s students will never be able to do that because they work and raise families, and most of them can’t find the money or time to do it.
According to the strategic plan, the university’s goal is to get three students to study abroad each year.
But Parkison said IU Kokomo might have more success attracting international students here.
The ultimate goal is to bring in more than 55 students, the strategic plan states.
Parkison said she doesn’t know how many international students are at IU Kokomo this year because the university doesn’t track those numbers yet. But four countries — India, Korea, Nigeria and now Saudi Arabia — are represented on campus.
Talal Al Hammad was the first Saudi Arabian to come to Kokomo to study.
Al Hammad found the university’s MBA program while searching online.
He contacted IU Kokomo’s MBA Program Director Gloria Preece through Facebook for more information, and she replied with answers to all his questions within an hour.
Preece then worked with the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to gain approval for IU Kokomo’s program, so students there could attend on its scholarship.
He enrolled for classes in August 2012, and immediately posted information about IU Kokomo on a Facebook page for Saudi Arabian students considering business schools in the United States.
Al Hammad said he received 100 responses to that post, and 14 people enrolled in classes because of it.
Word-of-mouth recommendations are important in the international community, Parkison said.
If students have a good experience, they will recommend IU Kokomo to their peers abroad.
And Al Hammad is certainly enjoying his time in Kokomo.
“The faculty are really friendly and helpful, and so are my classmates,” he said. “I feel like I’ve become part of the community. I’m really happy to be here.”
He and his peers are learning to live like Americans, including eating the food. Burgers and pizza are their favorites, they said.
They’ve learned that Americans prefer debit cards to cash, something that surprised them.
Al Hammad said he hopes to teach his American classmates a few things along the way, too.
“Many Americans think of the Middle East and believe we still have camels and tents,” he said. “I hope we are building a bridge between us now, and we can make stereotypes vanish, hopefully forever.”
That kind of cultural exchange is invaluable for students, Preece said.
“Diversity plays an important role in education,” she said. “Having students here from other parts of the world brings many new perspectives into the classroom and campus.”
Al Hammad anticipates more Saudi Arabian students will come to IU Kokomo for graduate and undergraduate programs now that an initial group has enrolled.
Parkison said that’s good news for the university. IU Kokomo will begin to target other countries eventually.
She said they have to be careful not to move forward too quickly, though.
“It takes planning,” she said. “You need a support network around that can help them. Someone needs to drive them to the grocery store. Who are they going to call at two in the morning when they’re sick?”
Lindsey Ziliak may be reached at 765-454-8585 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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