Change, in any context, is difficult. International students around the globe undergo this experience when deciding to leave homes in their pursuit of higher education – a decision they may make if they feel it will set them up for greater success in their futures and careers. Even with a small liberal arts college like Rollins, the campus is said to be attractive to many international dreamers looking for a U.S. college education. Rollins has stated that it “is committed to international education and to working with the community to achieve the goal of internationalizing Rollins.”
Susi Reeg (‘19), a Rollins College graduate, said her approach to leaving her home country of Germany, entering another culture entirely, was “to adapt to whatever comes my way.” Reeg believes the United States is where she belongs, and thus she decided to go overseas.
The United States has seen an increase in applications from international students seeking higher education. According to Dr. Elena Yakunina, “considering the recent trends in globalization, technological developments, international travel, and cross-cultural exchange, it is likely that the United States will continue to attract foreign-born students from all over the world in the years to come.” Students may not only want to study in the United States, but also seek an array of job opportunities, career growth, and other valuable insights that they can bring to the job market. International students bring their own cultural backgrounds, professional and personal identities, and educational backgrounds to the new academic settings in which they place themselves. For some international students, however, there may be better options for them in their home county.
One of the hurdles those students may experience involves their visa with reports from Boundless and the Institute of International Education (IIE) finding that concerns about visas were one of the top reasons for enrollment decline occurring in the fall of 2019. This was further exacerbated by the temporary closures of United States embassies and consulates due to the pandemic.
However, these challenges have not had a negative impact on Rollins’ international enrollment. In one year, Rollins saw a seven percent increase in international student enrollment. In the fall of 2021, Rollins had 369 international students on its campus, which accounted for 15 percent of the total student population. To help these international students navigate their way through college in the U.S. Rollins has the office of International Student and Scholar Services. Their website provides visa and immigration information for international students.
Each year, Rollins celebrates International Education Week. According to the International Student and Scholar Services website, this week “celebrates the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide.” Flags from each country that Rollins has an international student from are placed around Mills Lawn.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is another initiative that Rollins prioritizes to diversify our community and bring in various cultural backgrounds and perspectives. On the Rollins DEI website it is stated that, “At Rollins, fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community of learners, is one of the College’s core values.” DEI goes hand in hand with the portion of the college’s mission statement in which “Rollins educates students for global citizenship.” Students are fortunate to have exposure to other students from different cultural backgrounds and form meaningful intercultural relationships. Rollins stated, “Our campus community forms a vibrant tapestry of unique perspectives bolstered by a robust roster of resources designed to ensure that every student at Rollins feels seen and supported.”
Tully Njoroge (‘24) is a junior at Rollins College majoring in psychology, a member of the men’s swim team, and is originally from Johannesburg, South Africa. A major player in Njoroge’s experience as an international student in the United States revolves around athletics, which made him select Rollins for his learning journey: “The main [driving force] was swimming. I knew academics were important, but for me, for the training opportunities and athletic performance, that was the main reason why I came here,” said Njoroge. In terms of athletics and academics, Njoroge said Rollins is “the best of both worlds, [and] that’s why I decided to come here.”
Njoroge underwent a massive change in his life when moving to America in January 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He recalled his mother telling him, “You have to deal with COVID, college [itself], and a whole completely different culture.” He reflected and said trying “to handle all [three of those] things was extremely overwhelming at times, [but] since I was friends with a lot of international students . . . if I was struggling with certain things, they’d help me out [because] they’d been in my position before.” Making the cultural and life adjustment was “something that you just can’t really force. You have to wait [and] with time it gets easier.”
Being the first member of his family to move to and live in the United States, Njoroge spoke of any pressures he may feel that come along with this opportunity. He said he does feel pressure, but it’s pressure he places on himself. “You don’t want to mess up. You don’t want to throw that opportunity away because I’ve seen how much my parents had to work in order to get me to where I am right now and give me this opportunity. You don’t want to jeopardize that in any way.” Njoroge said from his parents’ point of view, they “are very understanding and supportive of me being here, so they don’t really put too much pressure [on me].” It’s an exchange of sorts. Njoroge said, “They kind of just allow me to live my life on my own and I’m just trying to be as responsible as possible in order to not mess up [my] opportunity.”
Time in college away from home is time well spent for many, but what happens when that time inevitably comes to a close, especially for international students? When Njoroge was asked whether he planned on staying in the United States or returning home to South Africa, he responded, “It’s very up in the air because I need to figure out where I’m going to go [and] what I want to do . . . a lot of stuff needs to be figured out in the next year or so.” His time at Rollins, he said, has certainly made him lean towards remaining in the United States.
Susi Reeg attended summer camps in Florida. These experiences led her to decide she wanted to be in the United States for a longer period of time. She was recruited for swimming and began her academic career at Rollins. She believes this decision and the experiences that came along with it set her up for a successful future. Reeg said, “I don’t think I could have [had] a better education than the one I got . . . I think Rollins was so special because you had [about] 25 people in a class and you learned so much from your professors [who] really care about you and want to help you.”
Before Reeg graduated from Rollins, she was looking for job opportunities in the United States. She went through a series of interviews and applications, but there was a constant setback for her: her visa. She mentioned the difficulty of speaking to someone in human relations, calling to ask basic questions such as “do you have a working permit?” and explaining she held her one-year optional practical training (OPT). The main issue she encountered was going through all of the steps to join an organization only to be required to leave the country after only one year.
Likewise, Njoroge has a student visa, which only allows him to work on campus during his time at Rollins. When he graduates and begins to look for a job, the search will become tricky because an organization would need to sponsor his visa, something Njoroge said an organization would be unlikely to do because of the extra steps it would need to take.
Reeg graduated from Rollins in 2019, after which she attended HEC Paris, where she studied for one year before moving on to study at Yale School of Management for one year. When she attended Yale, Reeg noticed the classroom atmosphere was slightly larger. Regarding the approach of the institution and its students, Reeg recalled that if students were willing to put in the effort, the professors would also put in the work. In Germany, this is not the case. Reeg was also the first person in her family to go to college in the U.S. “I did not feel any pressure because they didn’t want me to [feel any],” she said.
Reeg emphasized that she believes the reason she was not accepted to the jobs she applied for in the United States was because of her visa. “I think a lot of times they just rejected me because I was German,” she said. She does think that being an international helped with her application process for graduate school. “After grad school, I didn’t try to stay in the U.S. just because the process was so frustrating after my bachelor’s that I [thought] ‘You know what, I’m just going to start in Europe.’”
Despite any hardships Reeg had with her visa and career opportunities after college, she said she would not change her experience. She loved receiving her bachelor’s from a U.S. institution and participating in the double degree program with HEC Paris and Yale School of Management.
After she graduated from Yale School of Management, she traveled back to Germany. She began a job working at Tacto, which is a small startup that creates procurement software for German small and medium enterprises. Reeg is happy to be back in Europe and excited for additional career growth opportunities that come her way.
Many individuals across the world share a similar dream which they carry through their lives, seeking to fulfill it. Susi Reeg and Tully Njoroge both value the educational opportunities they experienced in the United States and are proud to have taken the jump. Being an international student is a different form of immigration. Academic institutions add young, intelligent, and at times athletic minds to their campuses with different backgrounds and experiences to share and build on top of. In their time away from their home countries, international students learn, lead, and succeed, especially here in the United States.
The opinions on this page do not necessarily reflect those of The Sandspur or Rollins College.
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