“I’m usually ‘The Russian,’” Bella Harutyunyan, a second year student at Lane, said. “But I’m not.” Harutyunyan comes from Armenia, a small country in western Asia with an ancient history and culture that was part of the former Soviet Union until 1991. People in Eugene assume she is Russian, she says, because they know little about the part of the world where she grew up.
As Lane steps up recruitment abroad and attracts more students like Harutyunayan from around the world, students from different cultures will be more numerous. In anticipation, the college is beginning to take measures to accommodate these students from more diverse backgrounds.
Lane’s English as a Second Language program is directly impacted by this change in demographics. Tracy Henninger, lead faculty member and teacher for the ESL program for the last 14 years, said the program originally served residents, that is, people with green cards living and working in the community. Now, most of the students are non-resident.
“I think in a typical class you have 7 to 10 countries represented,” Henninger said. These students have different needs — they want to get degrees in the U.S., so they need to learn academic English and American learning styles. To accommodate this, she says they have overhauled the structure of the program. “We’re not just teaching ESL, we’re teaching study skills, lectures and doing a lot of projects,” she said.
Henninger said her department recently did a study with faculty comparing international students to domestic students. Faculty noted that challenges for international students include following instructions, taking tests and using Moodle. Now the ESL curriculum involves more cultural information about being a student in the U.S. to help students be more successful in credit classes.
Many students in the ESL program are Muslim. Henninger said they rearranged the class schedule to free up Friday afternoon to allow their Muslim students to attend weekly Juma prayers. But teachers are also working to prepare their students for life in the U.S.
“Culture and language are intertwined,” said Henninger, pointing out that studying in the U.S. also involves adopting parts of American culture. American classrooms, for example, are co-ed, which is not the norm for students from the Middle East. “You want people to feel safe,” said Henninger.
She said that students from Oregon can benefit from the increase in foreign students. “Students who come here who are local can meet people from all over the world,” she said. “Even though they’re here in Oregon at a community college, it’s a piece of the world.”
Dave Oatman, the dean of the business department, said many international students choose to study business and the first chapter in the introduction to business textbook is about globalization.“I think there’s a lot of exciting potential,” Oatman said. “In the future, it would be neat to see an international business club.”
Harutyunyan is an international student ambassador and she thinks higher international student enrollment is a positive change. “It’s good for the professor because it teaches them to think critically,” she said. “I think it’s good for the students too to hear a different opinion.”
She recalled an assignment in one class where everyone except her picked projects that had to do with Oregon. She chose a project on women in the Middle East. “I think about the issue from so many different perspectives,” she said. “It changes the class dynamics, especially the classes where you have to give presentations.”
However, it is not enough just to enroll international students, Harutyunyan said. The college needs to take measures to integrate them into the school community. “They have to put effort into making [international students] share their culture,” she said about the administration. She has served on one panel at Lane but said she wishes for more opportunities for foreign students to share their perspective.
As international students continue to enroll at the college, Harutyunyan says she hopes they can be treated as individuals and not numbers. “They can’t use us like tools,” she said. “We have to have benefits. Everyone expects us to come here with billions and support the college.”
Harutyunyan says she enjoys the teaching style in the U.S. “Knowledge is perceived in a different way,” she said about the U.S. educational system compared to Armenia. “I like the system here because it makes you think.” She says she will likely pursue a bachelor’s degree in international business.
More changes may be in store as Lane works to accommodate international students. The international enrollment at the University of Denver, for example, reached ten percent and Inside Higher Education recently profiled the institution. Along with other changes, that university now requires higher scores on English proficiency exams and remedial language classes, which will help ensure that newly-enrolled international students will be able to participate fully in their classes.