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'Word of mouth' makes Millikin a destination for African students

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Life in their homes in Africa is not so different from life in the United States, say the international students who are studying at Millikin University. READ MORE HERE.

DECATUR — Carmen Aravena jokes that her job is to convince international students to come to Millikin University, and that Briana Quintenz takes care of them after that.

Aravena is the director of international admission and Quintenz is director of international student services. With 108 students representing 30 countries, both women are kept busy.

They work with a foundation that helps them find students in African countries that has resulted in 30 of the international students being from Zimbabwe, Kenya, Senegal, the Congo, Burundi and other African countries.

“It's word of mouth,” Aravena said. “They speak to each other. They actually are very good about it. They find a community and they like it, and we are very lucky. They like Millikin and we like them. They're very good students. They're all different but they are excellent students.”

The students come for the quality education, which is not always available in their home countries, and for the experience of living in America, but they also bring their culture to campus to share with American students, she said.

“American universities are still the best universities in the world,” Aravena said. “And in some countries, like China, India, they don't have enough universities. A lot of students overseas grow up thinking they're going to go to Harvard, they're going to go to Berkeley or Stanford. Just like Illinois students go to New York (for college). Why not Illinois? It is a very natural thing for high schoolers to want to go somewhere else.”

Though Millikin is known for fine arts, the university offers much more and, she said, students know that in other countries.

“We have over 40 active exchange universities that we work with regularly,” Quintenz said. “I think one of the reasons students (from overseas) come to Millikin and stay at Millikin is the support system. We started off with just one Rwandan student. Then we got two more and it just kept growing. Their presence on the campus has changed the whole dynamic of how Millikin functions. Just five years ago, we went from having no students from Africa to having 30 students from Africa.”

The whole population of Millikin is just over 2,000 students, Aravena said, and to have 108 international students among them is a boon to campus life.

“What they bring to the classroom, what they bring to the dorms, what they bring to the apartments is an experience that a lot of Illinois students, students who come from rural areas of Illinois, will never have,” she said. “They won't go on leave in China, or Korea, or Japan, but they have a roommate who is from Korea or Japan or Rwanda and they will get that beautiful experience that they are not able to do (otherwise). The diversity and inclusion that comes from that is very rich for their academic experience.”

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter


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