Story and Photo by Tom Scearce
Fear was the initial emotion that first-year international relations major Kerstin Donat felt as she said goodbye to her family and boarded an airplane in Munich, Germany, in August to come to Drake University.
However, fear changed to hope as she flew over Des Moines and saw the city that would become her new home.
“There were no clouds, and it was pretty to see all of the lights in the city and think, ‘This is where I’m going to live,’” Donat said.
At the end of her 10-hour journey, she was greeted at the airport by her mentor, senior Jim Chua.
This experience is, for the most part, similar for the 337 international students who make up a portion of the student population here at Drake.
Once accepted to Drake, every international student is assigned an upperclassman mentor who is an international student him or herself and who helps the mentee through his or her first year.
Typically, the next day is International Student Orientation, and that is the chance for the students to have all of their questions answered.
The notion of drawing students to Drake in the first place is a bit trickier.
Associate Director of International and Graduate Admission Leslie Mamoorian said coastal states, such as California and New York, are more popular among international students, as they are, geographically speaking, closer to their homes. However, the admissions office makes up for that in a more personal way and tries to do as much as it can to ensure the students feel comfortable at Drake and in Des Moines.
“We place a lot of effort on recruiting students one on one,” Mamoorian said. “We travel abroad and go and talk to them. We really do develop personal relationships with them.”
Personal relationships, with friends and professors, was just one of the many reasons that attracted Donat to Drake.
“I don’t think college is worth it if your professor doesn’t know your name, so size in general was a factor for me. I also wanted no TA’s, small classes and good extracurriculars,” Donat said.
However, first-year actuarial science major George Adede chose to move to Des Moines from Kenya mainly for the program offered at Drake.
“I was looking for a good actuarial science program, and Drake was the best, and I liked that Des Moines is a good insurance hub. It’s good to get an internship and well connected,” Adede said.
Mamoorian believes that all of these different perspectives come together and have an effect on all of the students.
“I think it’s important for both U.S. and international students to be exposed to people from other cultures because that is what our world is right now,” Mamoorian said. “I certainly think it entices the international population, but also the U.S. population.”
And Donat agrees that learning the ideals of America is what helped her settle in here.
“The people on my floor are mainly American, so it’s easier to connect with people and learn about their culture because while it’s not all that different from Germany, it’s still different,” Donat said.
For the most part, the student body is accepting of a diverse student body.
“I think going to a diverse school is important because it gives you insight to various cultures and backgrounds,” said senior politics major Aly Schmidt. “I also find it interesting having classes with them to hear their opinions in certain discussions.”