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Outreach attracts more Chinese students

By Celia Cullom

The bright lights of Beijing and Shanghai are a far cry from the rolling hills of rural Ohio. And, as several Kenyon students could tell you, the move from China to Knox County is not an easy one. Since 2006, Kenyon has consistently enrolled three to five students from China in each class, but that number is growing: the Class of 2016 has six Chinese students. This trend is even more pronounced on a national level: of the nearly 765,000 international students enrolled in universities throughout the country, roughly 20 percent are from China.

Its a massive trend in higher education, President S. Georgia Nugent said. Because of the economic situation, colleges are more and more looking for talented, full-pay students, and that is a population where there just may be mutual benefit there.

Associate Director of Admissions and International Recruitment Sonya Broeren has been an instrumental part of the recruiting process at Kenyon. In each of the past four years she has traveled to China with the China Liberal Arts College Tour to meet with prospective students and talk to them about Kenyon.

Theres both a greater interest in American-style education and not much supply over there, Nugent said. Although one of the things I find ironic at the moment is that at the time when Americans are kind of losing their understanding of and appreciation for liberal arts, liberal arts colleges are springing up all around the world in places that never had them before.

Broeren has found that many students she meets in China who consider themselves not typical Chinese students those who want to study humanities or social sciences rather than mathematics or engineering are interested in what Kenyon has to offer. Jinwen Chen 16 is one of those students. She chose to come here in part because of the reputation of Kenyons drama department. She quickly realized that the close-knit community, though vastly different from anything shed experienced in Nanjing, was a definite plus to coming to Kenyon.

At first it feels a little bit weird that everybody knows everybody, that you actually greet people when you see them, Chen said. In a big city, I dont even talk to my neighbors. Its a big change, but I kind of like it. I get to know people and get close to people.

Amelia Li 15 feels similarly. After attending the China Liberal Arts College Tour in Beijing, she decided that she wanted a school with a small setting, so she set up interviews with representatives from Grinnell College and Kenyon.

I met with Bev Morse, who was the director of international admissions at Kenyon, and shes now my host mom, Li said, referring to the host family program in which all international students participate, where they are matched with a local family to provide support.

I really clicked with [Bev] and she told me she [thought] I was a perfect candidate for Early Decision and I was a really good match and thats when I decided to apply to Kenyon, Li said.

It wasnt until actually coming to Kenyon, though, that Li realized how suited she was, to the small community, but also to the rural setting.

Ive been in Beijing all my life and Ive never really been to a rural area, so coming to Gambier was such a big change for me. I really hate Beijings pollution and the population and the crowds everywhere. I feel like coming here was a very good change for me because I can [see] stars in the sky for the first time, Li said. I feel like I can live 10 years longer by staying here for four years.

Many of the Chinese students Kenyon admissions officers meet share Chens and Lis feelings about the Colleges setting. I think what appeals to a lot of international students is the close-knit community, Broeren said. They want that small setting, especially students from Shanghai, where there [are] 23 million people. They love the fact that theres no traffic light.

Kenyons small setting doesnt appeal to all foreign students, though. According to Nugent, when Kenyon admissions officers traveled to India to run a focus group with potential students, they made some startling discoveries. All the things that are sort of positive levers for us were completely different, Nugent said. The overwhelming sense [for Indian students] was that if its a small college it must be bad, because if it were good youd get big. And then rural was associated with … no electricity, no running water. Wed have to think of a completely different way of familiarizing people with this kind of education.

In part to tackle that challenge, Li is now helping the Office of Admissions efforts to make Kenyon more globalized. Last summer, she joined Broeren on the China Liberal Arts College Tour at the stop in Beijing. I feel like people [in China] connect with me because I share the same education with them, I shared the same background with them, she said. They really want to hear a Chinese perspective on things.

Through the efforts of Admissions as well as the curiosity and the willingness of international students to leave their comfort zone, Kenyon is becoming more diverse.

The world is becoming more global and its nice to see that Kenyon is becoming more global, Broeren said. When I was a student here 25 years ago we had maybe a handful of international students and that wasnt a real representation of the world, so I think the Kenyon community is fortunate to have a global view.

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