BY ABBY BAKER ’19
Mount Holyoke has the second-highest international student population of the nation’s liberal arts colleges, according to the 2018 rankings that were recently released by the U.S. News & World Report. Twenty-seven percent of the student body are international students, according to the report.
This marks a small increase from 2017, when Mount Holyoke was ranked third, with international students comprising 26.3 percent of the student body.
Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, Calif. was ranked the highest, where international students comprise 43 percent of the student body. Bryn Mawr, another member of the Seven Sisters, was ranked fourth, with 23 percent.
One reason why Mount Holyoke draws so many students from abroad is that there isfinancial aid available to international students.
Mia Bai ’20, an international student from Chengdu, China said, “I think one of the very big supports that they gave me is financial aid, which a lot of liberal arts colleges and big universities don’t give to international students.”
According to Kathy Blaisdell, director of Student Financial Services, the same financial aid is offered to international students as to domestic students. This includes grants, loans and work study.
“The sources of the financial aid may be different in that we can offer federal loans to domestic students but not to international students and international students aren’t eligible for federal or state grants. So the source of all financial aid for international students is institutional aid, but the types of aid we package are essentially the same as for domestic students,” said Blaisdell.
Blaisdell also noted additional differences, including the fact that domestic students can complete community service off-campus for pay while international students cannot, and institutional loans have a fixed interest rate that remains constant all four years while interest rates for federal loans are set every year.
However, financial aid was not the only influential factor for Bai. “In my high school, I don’t think that girls got a lot of attention and respect from boys, so I decided to go to a women’s college,” said Bai. “When I was in my high school, there were several boys in my class who made fun of one girl and I talked to my teacher and my teacher said to that girl, ‘You probably need to think about your problems instead of their problems. You don’t act properly.’ I was so shocked.”
For Alex Cabezas ’21, an international student from San Salvador, El Salvador, Mount Holyoke’s professors played a role in her decision to attend.
“I always knew that I wanted a liberal arts education, and Mount Holyoke’s curriculum was pretty much a perfect fit. I even stalked many potential professors and was amazed at how accomplished they were, particularly with traveling and living abroad,” she said.
Cabezas has also found support in the international student community, a draw in and of itself to prospective international students.
“I didn’t imagine what a great resource my fellow students would be, but the sheer amount of bonding I have made with girls from India, Pakistan and Vietnam, just to name a few, has incomparable value. We all began talking about differences with the United States, but we ended up learning about similarities between us. Even domestic students share a lot regarding societal alienation with us. What I love about Mount Holyoke is that everyone is an oddball in one way or another, so we come together though our rarities,” said Cabezas.
Cabezas is quick to say that her experience at Mount Holyoke has been “nothing but wonderful,” but she would also like more emphasis on educating international students about gender, sexuality and identity topics.
She said, “Many of us may come off as ignorant, unaccepting and even rude towards the LGBQT+ community, not because we want to or are denying their rights, but because our home countries are unfortunately behind on this conversation. Just like LGBQT+ people are suppressed in many of our societies, so is the availability of intelligent literature on the topic for those of us that want to be allies or even belong to the community.”
She noted that many international students may have never met a transgender person before coming to Mount Holyoke, or may be unfamiliar with the use of they/them/their pronouns.
“If these things are still shocking to a large number of Americans, imagine how they are to us who come from less Western and liberal countries,” said Cabezas. “The difference however, is that as international students we have nothing but respect towards diversity in all shapes and sizes. I really lament some accidental clashes that have occurred between internationals and LGBQT+ people. Everyone that comes to Mount Holyoke has an open mind and an open heart. We want to learn and become better world citizens in all possible aspects, but perhaps we need a better medium to be instituted for this particularity.”