DECATUR — Tetyana-Khrystyna Konareva, known to her friends as “Christina,” came to Millikin University to get a college education because it was place she could study all three of her passions — psychology, art and nature.

A native of Ukraine who has been living with her family in India for the past 5½ years, Konareva said the United States was really the only option for the “well-rounded” education she desires.

“I hope to be able to do art therapy and pet therapy one day,” the 19-year-old said.

Living in a new land, Konareva is also learning a different culture and is part of a growing number of international students who are staying more than a semester on the Millikin campus. Florence Galy Lebois, the university’s new director of international recruitment, said a majority of the 41 international students enrolled this semester plan to earn a degree at Millikin.

That’s a first.

“The hope is that students will become more involved in campus and community life instead of saying, ‘Oh, why bother, I’ll be gone in four months,’” Lebois said.

The experience should not only broaden the horizons of the international students, she said, but also those of the Americans they meet. A native of France who graduated from St. Teresa High School in Decatur in 1990 as a foreign exchange student, Lebois understands that all too well.

“It’s very different in Europe, where there are so many countries close together and people are used to being exposed to other cultures,” she said. “Most people here don’t even have a passport.”

Liyang “Leon” Yu came to Millikin from China two years ago to complete his education in physics and mathematics because he craved more interaction with his professors — something that was not possible where overpopulation causes classes and campuses to be huge.

The 23-year-old was baptized at Moundford Free Methodist Church and said he believes his participation in campus and community life has helped dispel stereotypes. “I’ve the first living, male Asian some people have ever seen,” he said.|(217)421-7978

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