from Cairo's Helwan University, John Farag was eager to continue his
studies in industrial design, but with only one such program in Egypt,
the options were limited. He had yet to leave Africa when his online
research led him to San Francisco State. The strength of the University's
Design and Industry program and its location in a beautiful city inspired
him to move more than 7,000 miles from home to pursue his master's degree.
Farag is one of nearly 2,000 international students at SF State. Together,
they represent 90 countries from across the globe. "These students
bring the world to us. We have a little United Nations," says Yenbo
Wu, director of the University's Office of International Programs (OIP).
He adds that students exposed to new perspectives, languages and cultures
graduate fully prepared for careers in a rapidly shrinking global society.
Internationalization has long been a priority at SF State but became
a major initiative after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. During the
days that followed, the staff at OIP made nearly 300 personal phone
calls to SF State students from Muslim countries.
"President Corrigan wrote personal letters to all of our international
students," Wu says. "He expressed his support and let students
know that this is their home away from home, and that the University
values their presence."
This type of support, coupled with strong academic offerings may explain
why SF State draws more international students than any other master's
degree-granting institution in the U.S., according to the Institute
of International Education -- and why the University's international
student population has ranked among the top ten for nearly a decade.
Farag received support from SF State long before he stepped on campus.
His frequent calls to OIP helped him decipher applications for admission
and secure a visa, tuition and housing. "I had about 1,080 questions,"
he says with a smile. "I was the most nagging person."
Today he is on the other end of the phone at OIP, helping international
students navigate the requirements for admission. OIP Assistant Director
Patrice Mulholland says Farag has been "a great asset to our international
students who come from vastly different cultures and educational systems."
He has used his design skills to create a flow chart with step-by-step
instructions for international students on how to apply, register for
classes and prepare to move overseas. Farag knows well the adjustments
they will face in the U.S., where there are new ways of teaching and
testing, cultural and language differences, and the pangs of homesickness
that come when one is far from friends and family.
When Farag arrived in the U.S., his experience with English was limited
to short conversational exercises in English classes. After a few months
at SF State, he felt fairly comfortable speaking a second language,
but "reading academic materials in the U.S. is still not a piece
of cake for me," he says, pointing out that reading from left to
right, instead of right to left as he does with Arabic, has been another
Like Farag, undergraduate journalism major Poh Si Teng was attracted
to the strength of one particular academic program at SF State as well
as to opportunities that were not widely available close to home. In
her native Malaysia many laws prohibit assembly, but Teng now enjoys
the freedom of both speech and press in America. As a student reporter
she has covered many demonstrations in the city. "It's been good
to witness it, cover it, just to be in the midst of it," she says.
During the past four years Teng has returned to Malaysia only once.
Separation from loved ones is especially tough during special holidays
like Lunar New Year, but "it's worth it to be here," she says.
After graduation, Teng is headed to an internship at a newspaper in
Virginia and may very well stay in America. "Being a reporter in
the United States, you enjoy lots of privileges and rights," she
says. "It might be difficult to go back."
Teng has also appreciated the opportunity to mingle with a variety of
people. "San Francisco State is a little world of its own. Being
here you really feel like a global citizen," she says, adding that
SF State was more appealing than a private school because of its mix
of students from a diverse set of backgrounds.
Bathija (B.A., '99) was also struck by the wide range
of experiences represented by her peers at SF State. Studying alongside
people in their late 30s and 40s was a new experience for Bathija. "In
India, everyone does all in one shot," she says, explaining that
work and travel between undergraduate and graduate school is nearly
unheard of in her home country. After earning a degree in the Broadcast
and Electronic Communication Arts (BECA) Department, Bathija returned
to India, where she began writing scripts. Today she is a Bollywood
"Fanaa," her first script to make it to screen, set box office
records in Indian cinema earlier this year. "Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna,"
which she cowrote, was the gala opener at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival,
and induced a frenzy of fans rivaling that of a Hollywood blockbuster.
"I feel blessed," Bathija says. Her screenplay for "Fanaa"
starred leading female actress Kajol, "sort of the Julia Roberts
of India," Bathija explains. Leading male actor Aamir Khan signed
on to play opposite her. "It was a double whammy," Bathija
says. It's particularly rewarding to see people enjoy her work "in
a country where 40 percent of the people live below the poverty level,"
she says. "They want an escape."
Bathija credits her BECA professors for her success. "I learned
to write dialogue at SF State. Corless Smith's dramatic writing class
-- that's really where it started," she says.
Smith points out that her former student is "incredibly brave.
Like a lot of international students, Shibani deserves credit for taking
chances, making sacrifices, leaving family to come to a place she's
never been -- and do well."
Ricardo Kriebel will earn his master's degree this
year and is already making impressive strides in his field. Two years
ago, while working as a plant curator at the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad
in Costa Rica, Kriebel crossed paths with SF State Research Professor
of Biology Frank Almeda, the senior curator of botany at California
Academy of Sciences. The visiting American was impressed with Kriebel's
passionate enthusiasm for plants and encouraged him to continue his
studies in SF State's Biology Department. Kriebel enrolled at SF State
through a University partnership with the Academy that supports the
training of scientists from developing countries.
Leaving behind weekly rainforest expeditions was a shock to Kriebel's
system, but at SF State he is deepening his understanding of botany.
Now in his second year of graduate school, Kriebel has coauthored more
than 10 scientific articles and continues to add to the global body
of botanical research.
He has been working closely with Almeda to document and describe Costa
Rica's princess flower family (Melastomataceae), and recently found
a new species that he plans to name after his professor. Almeda and
other influential faculty members, including biology Professor Robert
Patterson, were crucial to Kriebel's latest publication: a field guide
to Costa Rica's African violets. Almeda says it's a "very nice
addition to the literature about flowering plants, not just for Ricardo's
fellow scientists but for ecotourists as well."
smiles as he points out a few of the species he has photographed and
described inside. There's the Capanea grandiflora that hangs upside
down to invite pollination by bats, and the Napeanthus costaricensis,
especially tricky to photograph as its blooms often last just a few
hours. "There's so much to tell you," he says. "Google
'orchid bees' sometime -- they're fascinating."
He has already carried that enthusiasm back to Costa Rica, where he
has taught botany classes. Eventually he would like to help build a
network of plant collectors there and bring new employment opportunities
to the rural countryside. Almeda would like to see Kriebel earn his
Ph.D., and return to provide leadership in Costa Rica. "It's important
to have people in developing countries to serve as role models,"
he says, "so that the research other scientists are conducting
there can move forward."
International students serve as diplomats in more ways than one. They
often inspire their American peers to pursue academic studies in other
countries, Wu says, pointing out that an increasing number of SF State
students study abroad each year.
"The paradigm of global thinking is impacted by our international
students' experiences in the U.S.," Wu says. "In the long
run, these students will be leaders in government, commerce, law, education.
They will return to do business with us and look to us for collaboration.
Through these exchanges, we can look forward to better understanding
and fewer misunderstandings."