Exchange Matters / August 5, 2014

Helping International Students Meet America

The world is growing more and more interconnected each day. This simple fact is reflected in the rise in number of international students attending American colleges and universities. According to the Open Doors report released by IIE, the number of international students enrolled in U.S. institutions for the 2012/13 academic school year climbed to a record high of 819,644. This represents a 7% increase over the previous academic year as well as a 40% surge from over a decade ago. Hailing from countries all over the world, particularly China, South Korea, and India, the United States continues to be international students’ preferred destination for higher education.

But despite the impact these students can have on strengthening ties between individuals and nations, there remains a significant challenge in ensuring that they have a positive and diverse experience. Though many universities offer opportunities for international students to integrate into the university and the surrounding community, many struggle to find opportunities that allow them to experience the true diversity that the United States can offer.

The number of international students has risen by 40% in the past decade

The Global Ties network can play an important role welcoming international students, helping them connect with their community and accomplish their academic and professional goals. Thanks to initial support from key leaders and donors, Global Ties U.S. has developed a program called Meet America. Designed for international students who are enrolled full-time in a U.S. academic institution and who have lived in in the U.S. for at least one year, Meet America will combine tourist and educational travel with career development and professional networking opportunities for participants. The one-week pilot program is set to take place this upcoming Thanksgiving week, with more programs of varying lengths to follow in 2015.

Focus group research with international students in the DC area confirmed that many students are interested in the opportunity provided by Meet America for a variety of factors. Students want to “improve their language skills,” and “learn more about American cities and communities,” particularly in parts of the U.S. that receive less attention than their coastal counterparts. A large majority of participants agreed that their interest in “forming strong bonds and long-lasting connections” with Americans would be the main motivation to participate in Meet America.

an opportunity for international students to experience the U.S. separate from their host academic institution

The Global Ties network has a strong history of participating in similar programs, as member organizations previously collaborated with the State Department on the Mid-Winter Community Seminar program that arose in the 1950s and spanned several decades. Established as an opportunity for international students to experience living in another U.S. community separate from their host academic institution, it expanded to incorporate a diverse range of activities including seminars, visits to cultural heritage sites, and home stays that were designed to introduce participating students to various components of U.S. society. In addition, organizations within the network have their origins in providing international students with the opportunity to authentically experience the Thanksgiving holiday.

Meet America draws upon this vast and rich background to create a unique opportunity that helps enhance the experience of international students in America and forges lasting bonds between individuals and countries. Members of Global Ties will have the opportunity to host student groups through fee for service programming. To learn more, contact Franzi Rook at

Britt Mercadante, Global Ties U.S.