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The Many Faces of Global Columbia

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The presence of a significant number of international students on campus is not new. Columbia University in the City of New York has always had an attraction to students and scholars from abroad.  Located in one of the world’s most culturally diverse cities, a global center of enormous creativity and innovation in the arts, sciences and finance, Columbia, with its world renowned reputation, provides an opportunity for over 10,000 international students and scholars to learn in one of the most extraordinary open intellectual environments on earth. This has led to Columbia assuming the fifth place among the nation’s colleges and universities for its number of international students (undergraduate and graduate) and third in the country for its number of international scholars (post docs, researchers, and teaching faculty).

The International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) is located in a quiet building overlooking Riverside Park, just north of Grant’s Tomb.  Inside however, the atmosphere is bustling as students and scholars from over 150 different countries come to ask questions concerning the intricacies of visa updates, find solutions to problems that may arise during their stay at Columbia and seek advice on a number of issues affecting their status while in the United States.  The ISSO must keep itself updated with frequent changes in U.S. government regulations while the number of international students and scholars increases annually.  In addressing these concerns, the ISSO conducts orientation programs and sends frequent electronic newsletters to help students and scholars stay informed and to experience a successful sojourn at Columbia.

Robert Locke, Associate Provost and Director of the ISSO, points out that his office is the University’s hub for lending assistance to its international students and scholars and instructing them on maintaining their immigration status so that they can focus on their academic work and research.

“One of the hallmarks of a modern world-class university is not only the international scope of its research and teaching, but its ability to bring together and form a community of scholars from around the world while simultaneously extending that community across the globe,” said Dr. Locke.

With a continuously growing population of international students and scholars, the ISSO has seen an increasingly heavier workload.  Helping the students and scholars get through the bureaucratic reality of forms and requirements is a central focus, but the ISSO also partners with various Columbia schools and other organizations on campus to help integrate international students into the life of the University.

Taking the last decade as an example, a clear trend is visible.  The international student population at Columbia has increased annually, from 4,000 in 2002 to over 7,000 in 2012.  International scholars within those same years have increased from about 1,600 to nearly 3,100.  Though students and scholars come to Columbia from every continent except Antarctica, those from Asia currently comprise more than half of the University’s international population.  The 5 leading countries represented among Columbia’s 2012 international student population were: China, South Korea, India, Canada and France.

In terms of schools, in 2012, the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences held first place status with over 1,760 international students making up nearly 40% of the GSAS enrollment.  This was followed by the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Columbia Business School, and the School of International and Public Affairs.  These schools have consistently attracted the greatest number of foreign students, with 80% of the Columbia’s international students studying at the graduate level during the 2012 academic year.

With the establishing of Columbia’s Global Centers, the latest of which opened in March 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Columbia has a footprint in every region of the globe and students and researchers along with faculty will have an enhanced opportunity for collaborating with their peers in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East.  Interdisciplinary cross-cultural cooperation can occur through collaborative research projects, and in discovering solutions to global problems and challenges.  Dr. Locke finds this ongoing growth in global interconnectivity to be an exciting chapter in the University’s history.  As Director of the ISSO, he recognizes that New York City itself is a global center and that as the other eight centers expand and develop, it will mean a constantly widening international presence at Columbia within which his office will continue to play a critical role.

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