Since it was established in 1967, Whatcom Community College’s founder Harold G. Heiner had the purpose of internationalizing the school.
Heiner believed that by bringing in students from different countries and cultures, the college could achieve greater institutional diversity. Today, the International Programs staff works to preserve this legacy. Continue reading International Programs celebrates diversity→
Students from around the world gathered to discuss the topic of education at the Global Panel event hosted by Whatcom Community College in the Heiner Theater on May 1, with around 100 community members in attendance.
Iris Anthony, Whatcom’s international housing coordinator and advising assistant, helped host the event.
“Education is always relevant,” said Anthony. “It gives an opportunity to look at different [educational] systems and have a conversation about it.”
The event was a combined collaboration of the International Programs, World Languages Program, and The
Programming and Diversity Board at Whatcom.
The panel was composed of eight students from Brazil, India, China, and the United States, with two students from each country.
Students had the opportunity to answer questions about the current state of education in their respective countries. This is the fourth successive year that a Global Panel event has been hosted, each year with a different topic such as governments and politics in foreign countries.
“The intention behind this event is to get people thinking in new ways,” said International Student Advisor Beth Robinson, who helps host the Global Panel event every year. “I hope that it opened people to different ways of seeing [education around the world] and the chance to think critically about education.”
Giving international students an opportunity to share their experiences with the Whatcom community was a major goal of the event.
“One of the opportunities of working with international students in higher education is engaging in the exchange of ideas and viewpoints,” Robinson said. “We have a vibrant community of international students on this campus and it is important to me to give students the chance to share their stories and the opportunity for Americans to hear their stories.”
International student Paulo Panazzolo, 22, said he was pleased to be on the panel to give insight on the state of education in Brazil, where he is from.
“Even though Brazil has become an economic world power, most people do not see the issues that Brazilians are dealing with. They just see Brazil as an ‘economic world power.’ Period,” he said. “Education in Brazil is facing serious issues. The infrastructure is bad and the teachers are badly paid.”
The event also featured a short film, “Two Million Minutes.” The film is named after the amount of time that an average student spends in high school and depicts how students in countries such as China and India have a strong focus mainly on academics, compared to education in the U.S. which emphasizes a mixture of social aspects and sports as well.
“It’s important to critically examine education in other countries and learn from their approaches,” said Anthony. “How people are educated says a lot about what we value.”
Many students in the film from the international countries had their parents choose their future career paths for them; this was not the case for the students on the panel.
Malu Marie Jacob from Brazil said, “I would like to compare our system of education to the U.S. that we are not forced to choose [a certain career path].”
Ashvi Johnson of India said that while her parents never forced her on a career path, she would still seek their approval because it is culturally appropriate.
Students also gave insight on other differences from the culture in the United States compared to their home countries.
“We spend more time in class than Americans…more time in class than assignments outside of class,” said Jacob.
Veipune Sarah from India also touched on the issue of gender, saying that in her country education is very expensive. Parents look at education as an investment, and most do not want to spend money on girls, she said.
“Sending girls to school is like giving away their wealth,” Sarah said.
In many countries such as Brazil, public education is free, yet there are other obstacles. “It is difficult to get in,” Panazzollo said. “You have to study.”
With around 260 international students attending Whatcom, Anthony said the college offers a lot of personalized student support by giving international students “one-on-one attention.””
Each of the students from India and Brazil are a part of the Northwest Community College Initiative program (NWCCI), which is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. The program hosts international “young leaders” from around the world.
Community colleges participating in the area are Whatcom, Pierce, and Edmonds Community Colleges. Together, they have hosted 225 students, according to the NWCCI website. Housing, tuition and all benefits for students sponsored by the NWCCI are covered by the program so they have a greater opportunity to experience the U.S. culture and to focus on academics, Anthony said.
“The [NWCCI] students gain professional technical skills in their field of study, and improve their English language skills through their academic programs,” said Anthony. “But, more importantly they develop cross-cultural communication skills and become more compassionate and open-minded individuals. They are truly citizens of the world.”
With a 5 to 9 percent drop in enrollment this year, Whatcom Community College faces another hit to an already strained budget. One way the college has found to keep students and tuition flowing is to expand the number of international students enrolled at Whatcom, said Ulli Schraml, the Study Abroad/activities coordinator.
“We have the highest number ever, over 200 international students at Whatcom,” Schraml said.
International students provide a large source of revenue, Schraml said, since they pay out-of-state tuition.
There are advantages to having a large international presence on campus besides the increase in revenue, Schraml said.
“It’s nice to have a wide variety of people on campus,” said Schraml. Hosting international students “gives us views of areas of the world we are not familiar with.”
This sentiment is echoed by the United States State Department as it provides scholarships for students from certain developing countries to attend American community colleges, like Evashini Munsami, a 19-year-old Whatcom student from South Africa.
“The point of it is to enrich communities here,” said Munsami.
Schraml said that a large part of the international program expansion is focused on China because of changes in the State Department’s visa restrictions for this country. Before the changes students from China were generally only granted visas to attend four-year universities, Schraml said, but now it is common for Chinese students to attend an American community college.
“It’s a huge market,” said Schraml.
The same changes in visa requirements also apply to students from Vietnam and Indonesia, Schraml said. Whatcom has increased recruiting efforts in Indonesia in particular because of the large number of students seeking to attend American colleges, he added.
U.S. immigration law requires that citizens of foreign countries must be enrolled in at least 18 credits of English as a second language courses or 12 credits of academic classes to be granted a student visa. This means that ESL students pay at least $2,400 per quarter and students in academic courses pay at least $3,138 each quarter.
Coming to Whatcom to study has been a valuable experience, but the price can be difficult to handle, said Jeffrey Wong, a 20-year-old student from Hong Kong, since “tuition keeps increasing all the time.” To help cover tuition and expenses, Wong took a maintenance position on campus. It feels good to make some of his own money, Wong said. “When you take money from your parents the feeling is hard.”
Many international students appreciate the diversity of nationalities represented at Whatcom, like 20-year-old Pravis Briton, a student from Hong Kong starting his sixth quarter at Whatcom.
“Everyone is so different,” Briton said. “It is a really good experience.”
The official student newspaper of Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, Washington