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Saturday, December 2, 2023

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International Students from Brazil perform at the International Peace Village event last year. (SDSU) International Students from Brazil perform at the International Peace Village event last year. (SDSU)

SDSU Welcomes International Students From 106 Countries This Fall for International Education Week, Nov. 13-17

SDSU is home to more than 1,400 international students enrolled in academic studies this fall
By Mike Freeman

Hien Mai loved Hollywood movies as a child growing up in Vietnam, instilling in her a dream to live in California. Her aspirations led her to San Diego State University, where business programs caught her eye. But acceptance into the university was only half the battle; convincing her family was the real challenge as she made the case to continue her education half a world away.


Meanwhile, Marcelle Marmolejos, with a master’s degree and an established career in the Dominican Republic, sought to sharpen her skills further. A visit to campus and a personal meeting with the director of SDSU’s Master of Science in Global Business Development program sealed her decision to enroll this past August.


For Wint Thinzar Phyo, resuming her education was a two-year struggle after leaving a university in Myanmar. Her academic quest, marked by a study abroad program and an associate degree from a Bay Area community college, has led her to SDSU, where a computer science degree is within reach.


These stories highlight the often-complex journeys of international students at SDSU, where they must navigate language and cultural hurdles to succeed. The diversity they bring to campus will be showcased during International Education Week Nov. 13-17, celebrating the collective contributions of the university’s global student body.


SDSU welcomed students from 106 nations to campus this fall. International Education Week, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education, underscores the importance of preparing students for a globalized world and attracting future international leaders.


The highlight of International Education Week for SDSU will be the 66th International Peace Village at the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union courtyard on Nov. 16, where students will present food, music, and folklore from nearly two dozen nations.


This year, International Education Week also heralds the inauguration of SDSU’s Global Strategy, aimed at expanding the university's international presence in research, engagement, and partnerships.


SDSU is home to more than 1,400 international students enrolled in academic studies this fall, with an additional 400 students employed temporarily under a federal student visa extension program. 


The largest contingent comes from India with 353 students. That’s followed by China with 114 students, Japan with 76, Mexico with 66 and Vietnam with 63. The top fields of study are mostly technical and business-oriented, led by computer science, management information systems, management, and electrical and computer engineering.


According to Ricky Paniagua, assistant director of the International Student Center, SDSU's wide array of specialized degree programs stands out as a magnet for international students. Their presence enhances the university's diversity, adding cultural variety, unique perspectives, and communication styles essential for an interconnected world.


“Besides the obvious elements of the culture, the food, the history of their country, international and exchange students specifically bring their lived experiences into the campus community,” said Paniagua.


Phyo initially pursued mechanical engineering in Myanmar but after a year realized it was not her calling.


“I ended up dropping out,” she said. “But the thing is in my country, once you drop out, you can’t go back in. That is very different from universities here in the U.S.”


Her journey to continue her education brought her to the U.S., where she initially faced cultural and academic hurdles but persevered to find her footing at SDSU. Despite the challenges, including securing housing, Phyo has adapted and now has a job as a student assistant. She’s looking forward to graduating next year.



Graduate student Marcelle Marmolejos of the Dominican Republic is enrolled in the Global Business Development master’s degree program. (Courtesy photo)


Marmolejos was drawn to the tight-knit, project-based structure of the Global Business Development program. This approach has provided a supportive network, particularly with fellow international students, fostering a sense of belonging. 


“In my program from the beginning, they created a community for us,” she said. “They care about us knowing each other, and we got an opportunity to meet before classes started. That gave me an opportunity to connect with my classmates, particularly the international ones. We support each other.”



Growing up in Vietnam, Hien Mai was smitten with Hollywood and longed to come to California. She’s enrolled in SDSU’s business degree program. (Courtesy photo) 


Mai's multilingual fluency in Vietnamese, English, Japanese, and Mandarin has allowed her to make friends across cultures. With a background that spans continents — from high school in Japan to her current studies in California — Mai has adapted to life at SDSU with enthusiasm, sitting on the executive board of the International Student Association and joining campus organizations such International Business Society and the Finance and Investment Society.


Now a senior, she switched majors recently to finance, which will extend her studies at SDSU for about a year. Eventually, she plans to start her own business.


"I still miss my home and my family," said Mai. "But I feel really grateful and thankful that I'm here. I feel like I found my community here at San Diego State."