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As of last semester, 10,626 students were attending the University. It is safe to assume that relatively few lose more than half a day when traveling home, even with a break or two at an I-95 rest stop. A handful of students (191 undergraduates and several dozen additional post-grad students), however, enjoy a slightly lengthier trip.

International students comprise of about three percent of the overall student body at the University, a presence perhaps most often manifested by the 45 flags proudly hanging in Connelly Center, one for each represented country.

An international student is defined by the University as a student who is not a United States citizen and requires a student visa to study here.

“They come for as many reasons as there are students,” said Steve McWillaims, director of International Student Services. “Some from recruitment efforts,  some from family referrals, some because of faculty connections.”

Despite injecting a level of diversity unattainable within our borders, the international student population blends seamlessly into the community. They play sports, study in all five colleges and are members of fraternities and sororities.

In a time of a shrinking globe and fading borders, though, this diversity is worth celebrating.

Sam Nakhoul, a graduate student who will receive her masters degree in communication in May, grew up in Puerto Cabello, a harbor town on the north coast of Venezuela.

She completed her undergraduate studies in nearby Valencia and landed a job as a strategic communication analyst for a major manufacturing firm.

“After a year of work I decided I wanted to improve my English and the most cost-efficient option was to come here as an au pair,” she said.

Living with a family in Gladwyne, Sam began researching schools in the Philadelphia area, making visits to Drexel, La Salle, Temple and Villanova.

“Villanova was my first option because the [communication] curriculum seemed to fit my interests better,” she said. “Then, I visited campus and met with Dr. [Emory] Woodard, the program director at the time, and my interest grew even bigger.”

Although students’ backgrounds are always considered,  international applicants are given no explicit advantages when seeking acceptance into a University program.

Prospective students must submit a Common Application with the University supplement, take the SAT and/or ACT and, for non-native speakers, the TOEFL, or Test of English as a Foreign Language.

A student from Japan will apply for the same need-based financial aid as his or her classmate from Massachusetts or New Jersey.

Graduating in 2006 from a military academy in Porto Alegre, a large city on the Atlantic coast of southern Brazil, Marcelo Mazzocato made his way to the United States with the hope of going to college here.

After spending three years working odd jobs, including working the cash register at a Burger King, he enrolled in the University in the fall of 2009.

Now a senior, Marcelo lives in Manhattan, working as an analyst for JPMorgan Chase, with whom he interned last summer.

 Because international students are officially considered non-resident aliens, one difficulty that arises is the ability to stay when studies are complete.

“Many students stay here and work after graduation and many go home,”  said McWilliams.  “Certainly, if they can get work experience here, many try to stay for a few years and work for a U.S. company, but it varies.”

After graduating, students who are not citizens or permanent residents may remain in the country and work for up to one year. After that, graduates can apply for an H-1B visa, which allows companies to temporarily employ foreign workers for three to six years.

But the visas are limited—not everyone who applies receives one.

“Citizenship is a long process,” McWilliams said.  “After students get H-1B approval, they often apply for permanent residency or a green card. These are strictly limited and the process requires legal representation. Many students go this route but many go home and establish careers there or in some other country. Everyone wants a job when they are finished, just like we do.”

To most international students, the difficulties involved in adjusting to life in a foreign country and, if they so choose, remaining here after graduation are far outweighed by the opportunities afforded by attending the University.

“This is my last semester in the program and I have had an exceptional experience,” said Nakhoul. “I would do it again if I could. Not only have I had incredible professors, but I have also made great friends.”

 
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