Hilltop engages international students

Although some Bradley students would jump at the chance to study abroad in any far-flung corner of the globe, there are many students on the Hilltop doing that right now: International students.

Bradley’s international student population has been growing steadily over the past few years according to Jeff Bakken, associate provost for research and dean of the graduate school.

At the undergraduate level, Bakken said Bradley currently has around 40 to 50 international students. However, the graduate school has grown much larger.

“When I started [working at Bradley] in 2012, we had about 118 international graduate students, and currently we’re over 400,” Bakken, who has taken over international student recruitment, said. “We’ve more than tripled. Because we’re doing so well, the president asked if we would take on undergraduate international recruitment as well, so we’re recruiting both types of students.”

Although studying in a foreign locale may seem frightening, Bradley takes steps to accommodate international students.

“[Would] you believe if I say I got my admission just within a week after submitting my application?” Manideep Tummalapudi, a graduate student from Visakhapatnam, India, said. “After arriving in Peoria, one of the grad students had picked me [up] and provided temporary accommodation for the first week and assisted me in searching for permanent accommodation.”

According to Bakken, recruiters from Bradley will generally travel to find interested international students. They visit schools as well as educational fairs.

“We were spending money on [recruitment] websites at first, and I started looking at the money we were spending and how we weren’t getting any students from that,” Bakken said. “So, I reallocated that money towards travel, and we started in India first.”

Bakken said travelling has proved most successful, and that he has been to places like Taiwan, China, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and India.

“From our Middle Eastern trip – we were there the first two weeks of March – we’ve already had two admits that will probably come from Kuwait,” Bakken said. “We met an undergrad from Jordan who’s applied and been admitted that will probably come; we just had a transfer in California from Kuwait who wants to come here.”

However, recruiting international students comes with a long list of responsibilities and challenges.

“[Students] said communication wasn’t very good,” Bakken said. “So, they’d get admitted, but the communication after that was sparse, and it didn’t help them. We knew that students had to get a Visa, and there was no support to learn how to get a Visa. They had to find housing on their own, and there was no support in regards to housing.”

After Bradley became aware of international students’ issues in these areas, Bakken said the university made a variety of “quick fixes” to remedy the situations.

Students are still required to apply for Visas on their own, but Bradley provides them with preparatory information and materials, according to Bakken. The university helps all international students find housing when they come to study.

“There’s a webinar directed by Shabeer Amirali, the director of graduate school recruitment,” Tummalapudi said. “We learned about how to face questions in interviews we might come across, how things happen at Bradley, and how they’re going to happen when we come to Peoria.”

Tummalapudi said the graduate school also helped him with more in his transition to live in a new country.

“[They also helped with] submitting an application to Bradley, Visa documentation, the Visa interview preparation, [finding an] education loan, financial aid, travel arrangements and looking for a temporary accommodation after arrival,” he said.

Bakken said Bradley also utilizes social media sites, such as Facebook and the WhatsApp messenger app, to help new international students get to know each other, current international students and faculty members.

“Immediately after accepting my admission, I got a lot of help from the Facebook page of [the] grad school about preparing myself for the Visa interview and travel arrangements,” Tummalapudi said.

Besides the culture shock, Tummalapudi said he has enjoyed the experience of studying at Bradley.

“The best part of being an International student is the opportunity to be a part of world class research,” Tummalapudi said. “After I joined Bradley, I got a chance to work with Dr. Sihyun Kim from Civil Engineering Department on two research projects … I never thought a professor would help me so much to excel, which generally doesn’t happen in my home country … The availability of opportunities to professionally succeed in life is the best part of being an international student in [the] US.”