- Associated Press - Saturday, October 15, 2016

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) - In the midst of expanding properties and new programs, a quiet office at Colorado Mesa University is also growing in small and unexpected ways - its international student program has more than doubled enrollment since 2013.

When Annie Gingerich, associate director of international programs and services, started her job in 2013, there were 34 international students enrolled at CMU. In fall 2016, there were 84, reported The Daily Sentinel (https://bit.ly/2eciMVf).

“I think it’s the responsibility of an institution of higher learning to make sure that our classrooms are diverse, not just regionally or nationally, but globally as well,” Gingerich said. “I think having someone in the classroom or residence hall or club that has a different perspective on things is important. It facilitates learning and personal growth and it helps you learn from people who are different from you.”

That’s the biggest reason Gingerich - who has studied in Mexico and Spain, taught in Peru and served in the Peace Corps in Honduras and Central America - wanted to help overhaul the international student program.

Working as a one-woman office, Gingerich helped bring an intensive English program to CMU, called BridgePathways, in 2013. Students who want to study at CMU but aren’t proficient in English can take the six-week course to improve their fluency. Many students come to Grand Junction solely to take the class, and then return to their home countries.

Gingerich also started working with recruitment agents around the world to help promote CMU to students who are thinking of studying in the United States.

“It’s not a large-sized institution and we don’t have a global marketing brand, so this is one way to get the word out there, and we’re seeing it have lots of other effects,” Gingerich said. “A student will say, ‘My cousin wants to come here now,” and there is word of mouth that takes over after those more formal ways, like recruitment agents.”

There’s a difference between international students and students who study abroad - international students come to CMU with the intent of completing a degree, not just staying for a semester or a year.

That’s the case for Mizuki Kuno, a freshman sociology major who moved to Grand Junction from Japan this summer.

Kuno found CMU through a recruitment agent, because she wanted to study somewhere with fair weather, a safe city and where there weren’t many Japanese people already.

Kuno said she likes the facilities and that it’s easy to get to know people.

“The size of the classes is not that big, so you can ask questions whenever you like and I can easily go to office hours,” she said.

Hawra Aobajhan, of Saudi Arabia, is enrolled in BridgePathways to improve her English. She still hasn’t decided what she wants to study when she starts at the university.

“Maybe something with health,” she said. “My mother is a nurse, and back home I studied at a university for nursing for a few months.”

Aobajhan, who moved here with her husband at the start of the semester, said she often misses her family and wishes it was easier to talk to them - Saudi Arabia is nine hours ahead of Colorado.

But Aobajhan and more than 20 other international and local students packed into the international programs office for the first-ever global conversations afternoon. Students from Grand Junction and Costa Rica, Denver and Nepal ate food and talked, simply for the sake of getting to know one another.

Aobajhan brought stuffed dates, a food that reminds her of home.

And simple events like that, Gingerich said, are what bring students, culture and friendship together.

“There is just one piece of campus internationalization,” she said. “Having faculty programs abroad, inviting international scholars to come teach here for a semester . there are so many ways to increase international culture at CMU.”

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Information from: The Daily Sentinel, https://www.gjsentinel.com

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