Sophomore Irina Tisacova traveled more than 5,000 miles to Washington, D.C., to pursue her college education here. She is one of 1,772 international students that enrolled at GW last year and the only one from her home country of Moldova.
Among institutions of higher education, GW is considered to have a very international flavor. It admitted students from 126 countries around the world last fall, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research and Planning.
But the bulk of these students come from three countries: China, Korea and India. Last year, each of these countries sent about 200 students.
For the past five years the three nations have consistently fallen in the top slots among those that send students to the University. In addition, Taiwan and Turkey routinely fall within the top six, and Saudi Arabia and Japan also send significant numbers.
This trend is due to GW’s reputation abroad, said Greg Leonard, director of the International Services Office. The University has a particularly strong reputation in Korea.
“Our reputation is good because we have a number of notable Korean graduates and also because we have developed mutually beneficial exchange programs with Korean universities,” he said.
Overall, international enrollment statistics at GW seem to track global patterns. In 2007, China, Korea and India sent the highest number of students abroad relative to other countries, according to data from the Institute of International Education.
Apart from image and institutional connections, economic and cultural factors play a major role in motivating students to travel far and wide. In Moldova, “smart people leave” in many cases to escape the poor living conditions of an underdeveloped economy, Tisacova said.
For Virginia Wei, a freshman who was born in the U.S. but grew up in China and the Philippines, “studying abroad is the thing to do.”
The perception in China is that leaving to pursue an education means your life will be stable, even if this is not necessarily true, said Wei, who is also a Hatchet reporter.
The specific school chosen by international students also varies with the times. At GW, the School of Business has consistently been the top choice of undergraduate international students for the past four years. The business school has also attracted a majority of international graduate students for the last two years.
Prior to that, the School of Engineering and Applied Science tended to take a majority of the international graduate student population. And since 2003, graduate enrollment has consistently been about three times undergraduate enrollment.
Administrators point to funding to explain the difference in the numbers.
Graduates are more likely to receive paid fellowships or teaching assistant positions, while “most international undergraduates pay 100 percent of their tuition,” Leonard said. Tisacova, who pays her own way at GW, is among these students.
For undergraduates, recruitment is more broadly focused and less about individual programs.
But with a disproportionate amount of international students – graduates and undergraduates alike – coming from China, Korea or India, it is easy to overlook the rest of the world.
To Kristen Williams, director of graduate school enrollment management, the underrepresentation of other countries does not diminish GW’s international character.
“The only way GW wouldn’t be diverse is if all of our international students were to come from only one country outside the U.S,” she said.
The students they send here, after all, “are still international ones,” she said.
The current trends at GW also relate to population statistics. Countries with smaller populations tend to send fewer students than those with larger populations. If smaller countries have sent an unexpectedly large number of international students to GW, it is usually because of a particular study abroad or exchange program.
This is the case with both Turkey and Kazakhstan, which sent 75 and 25 students to GW last year, respectively.
Students who come from smaller countries are still in the minority even within the international population. Leonard said it would be beneficial for the school to emphasize recruiting from those countries that send fewer students.
Leonard said that increasing the number of students from underrepresented countries “would be a step towards becoming a major research university.”