Global Cleveland caught up with George Burke, who is currently traveling abroad and working to connect international students to opportunities to study in the United States.

Where will you be traveling?

I am traveling from Sept 11-Sept 30. I will be in Chennai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, and Mumbai, India; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Kathmandu, Nepal

What meetings or activities do you have planned for this trip?

I will be meeting with Education USA Representatives in Chennai, Mumbai, and Dhaka. I will be visiting international schools, some local high schools, attending a couple of Educational Fairs and International Education Recruitment Partners. I also visit in a couple cities with students who have either studied at CSU or CWRU that I have personally known over the years.

When you are working to promote studying in the United States to international students, what have you found to be the most common questions or concerns?

The parents’ number one concern is safety and expenses, while the students are most interested in both their academic and non- academic activities. They are interested in what work options and internships are available. I find the biggest challenge is having everyone recognize how different the US environment is, both academic and non –academic, from their own country. Something in the US that is not offered in other countries is the concept of almost limitless choices. But the options and choices are entirely dependent on taking the risk to explore and discover new things and new people. They often expect there is one perfect answer and one perfect school or perfect major. Trying to get someone to understand that even if an institution is not ranked number 1, higher education in the US actually opens the door to use their own initiative to get what they want, and that even though you start on one path once you arrive in US new options are always available that they don’t expect. Consistent with that is explaining US learning philosophy. In the US it is not the teacher’s responsibility to give you the answers but equip you with becoming a self- learner.

What are some changes you have seen in international student enrollment over the years?

After 40 years of involvement in international higher education, changes are varied. When I first became involved in the mid 70’s was the first explosion of oil money around the world. That meant students from Algeria, Iran (many personally financed), Libya, all countries of Mideast, Venezuela, and Nigeria where being sent on huge government scholarships. During that time period, the Chinese and Indian students were almost just graduate students who received graduate assistantships or specialized international scholarships. Then there was the oil crisis and Iranian revolution, which closed off many of those individuals. Then in the 80’s and 90s the world economics shifted toward Southeast Asia and students from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. That lasted until the financial crisis in the 90’s. But interestingly enough the world was becoming wealthy and international student numbers continued to grow in the US. Now of course when the Chinese and Indian currencies became useable on the international market it has lead to increased numbers of undergrad Chinese students and the last 3 years’ double digit % increase in undergrad Indian students.

The biggest change I have seen over the years has been among US universities. In the early years, international students were either key to scientific research or an added plus. But very few US universities had a comprehensive integrated approach to international education and international students. For many schools, it has now become a way to offset declining US domestic high school populations and balance their budgets; the importance of integration and diversity is lost. Recruitment is to meet enrollment and economic goals.

Are there particular fields that are more popular with international students?

As far as majors are concerned, of course the STEM fields and business make up 80% of the demand, but with the growth in numbers over those 40 years from 150,000 to over 1 million, you will find increases in all fields. Of particular interest for countries like China and India, which have gone from third world to economic and population leaders, they are interested in fields like psychology, communication, and fine arts. There continues to be a demand for Community Colleges to help offset the ever-increasing extreme expensiveness of both Private and Public 4 year institutions.

What was one unexpected experience you had on this trip?

When I landed in Chennai on Tuesday at 4am after traveling 36 hours, I took a nap in my hotel got up at 10am I heard there were riots in Bangalore and it might impact my second stop. So I spent part of my first 24 hours in country working with travel agents, and diverting my travel to other cities not originally on my schedule. But by the time Wednesday hit all had normalized and under control so my next stop Bangalore went on as scheduled.

Traveling through South Asia this time I faced two interesting challenges: riots over water rights in Bangalore, India and a sense in the west that Dhaka, Bangladesh is a dangerous place to go. After experiencing both places I found the fears we have about unfamiliar countries do not really exist in reality.

My thoughts while sitting in the Bangladesh airport waiting to go to Kathmandu made me think about whether you see life as a glass half full or a glass half empty. This made me realize that since 2001, America has been a country tending to the belief that the glass is half empty. And worse, we act as if the glass will break and there will be no more water. We look more backward rather than forward and we think it is more important to protect than to explore and look to the future. I have found in the eyes of many that I meet that the less they have, the more each day they have hope.

My wish for all Americans is to be thankful and feel they are fortunate to be in a country that is not over crowded, that has good water and most important the likelihood to move forward is truly in our own hands and heart. Many people of the world have bigger hearts and more dreams where there are fewer opportunities.  They wake up every morning thinking they will find a way to fill the glass, while too many Americans wake up fearing the glass will be broken.

How can Cleveland most benefit from international students coming to Northeast Ohio?

Northeast Ohio has and continues to benefit. Not only adding to student enrollments it opens up Cleveland to be a destination for companies, increasing a highly skilled work force, it adds to the faculties at the universities and colleges. They are definitely a benefit to expand all facets of the economy.