By David McLain
The 2012 fall semester has the largest international student population in Baylor’s history, according to the school’s Center for International Education.
Over the past few years, there has been an increase in Baylor’s appeal to students living in other parts of the world. More than 500 international students are attending Baylor this fall, and more than 300 of that number are returning students.
At a welcome dinner for new international students last month, President Ken Starr said 79 countries are represented in the student body.
China, South Korea, India, Nigeria and Mexico are the countries with the most students enrolled at Baylor. China has the most with 199 students, followed by South Korea with 150 students.
Melanie Smith, Baylor’s international student relations coordinator, said many of these students hear about Baylor from the Internet or from friends.
“A lot of these students are looking for faith-based schools,” Smith said.
Anton Melin, a junior from Sweden, chose to attend Baylor because of a connection with his home university. Baylor has 65 active exchange and affiliate programs with universities and international institutions for academic credit, said J.J. Ilseng, a student exchange and study abroad coordinator.
“English was my absolutely worst subject in secondary school, and I wanted to improve my oral English,” Melin said.
Eeba-Liina Kyöstilä, a junior from Finland, said the specific courses offered that relate to her organizational communication and public relations major influenced her decision to attend Baylor.
Some incoming international students arrived in the United States a week before school started, allowing for only a little more than seven days to adjust to a new culture before beginning classes.
“The culture shock is they found everything they want in Baylor, but they don’t realize it’s in a small town,” Smith said.
For Melin, Texas did not live up to the Wild West expectation many people in Europe associate with the once-frontier state.
“I was expecting a lot more cowboys,” Melin said.
Certain aspects of Texas culture particularly concerned Melin during his quick adjustment to Waco. In Sweden, as in much of the rest of the world, hot tea is considered the drink of choice. Melin was not impressed in his most recent attempts to enjoy what he considered the favored drinks of Texans.
“Iced tea is really bad, but root beer is worse,” Melin said.
In Finland, fall weather is mild and air conditioning is not common, and Kyöstilä found it hard to get accustomed to the Texas weather.
“It’s really hot outside, and I’m freezing inside,” Kyöstilä said. “I don’t get why the air conditioner is on so high.”
Of all the surprises international students experience, Smith says one outshines them all.
“They can’t believe there is a campus with live bears,” Smith said.