International student ranks swelling at Miami Middletown

In greater numbers, the world is coming to Miami University Middletown.

Since 2013 when the regional campus of Miami University first opened an English Language Center, officials here have seen a 633 percent increase in the number of foreign-born students.

The program started with 30 foreign-born students in 2013 and now has 220 enrolled in the university’s accelerated English reading, writing, language skills and American cultural program for the spring.

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Many stay at the Middletown campus earning their two or four-year degrees, but others — once their English proficiency improves — relocate to continue their studies at Miami’s main Oxford campus.

The journey from Wenbo Zhao’s home city of Shan Dong Qing Dao in China to Middletown was long, but worth it, says the 19-year-old freshmen.

“I care about freedom so I came to America to learn about freedom and how to connect this different culture with my culture,” said Zhao.

Learning English while also learning in undergraduate computer science classes isn’t easy but the specially designed instructional courses at Miami University Middletown (MUM) have smoothed his way.

Location plays a big role in MUM’s growing prominence as a destination for international students, said Jerry Martin, regional director of the English Language Center.

“Middletown is a great location. It’s mid-America and it has two international airports (Cincinnati, Dayton) and it has a high-quality education,” said Martin.

“Throughout our campus we are getting together and getting better ideas about how to integrate (students) not only into the campus but also into the community.

“The students know they are getting a good education and we’re starting to see some referrals (back to their native countries),” said Martin.

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But the international students aren’t the sole beneficiaries of this expanding program, he said. The exposure to international students and their various cultures is also enhancing the learning environment for students who are local natives.

“I think this is the greatest benefit - bringing the students here and letting them share their stories with our domestic students. When we bring our international students here, they develop relationships and some of our students now are inviting American students back to their hometowns and we’re excited about that,” he said.

Brennan Burks, spokesman for Miami’s regional campuses, said the school’s prominence as a globally-oriented institution is as deliberate as it is successful.

“Aside from being an excellent, thriving English language program in its own right, the English Language Center has made Miami regionals an epicenter of cultural exchange and collaboration,” said Burks.

“Every day our students, staff, faculty and larger community engage with and learn from one another across borders of language, tradition and perspective - and we are all made better for it,” he said.

Students in the program speak more than a dozen languages and have traveled here from more than 30 nations, though the majority of students are from China.

Freshman Yuyu Huang from the Chinese city of Guang Zhou said she is especially enjoying learning about American culture and her local host family included her in their recent Christmas tree decoration and celebration, both firsts for her.

“The teachers are really nice here and they help me a lot and I have a lots of new friends here,” said Huang. “I learn the American culture and I talk a lot with them and they help me get involved in America.”

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