The U.S. Department of Commerce says American higher education is the country's fifth largest service sector money-maker. International students contribute about $13.5 billion to the U.S. economy each year. A new report this week is announcing an increase in the number of international students in the U.S.
Nour Christidi is a junior at the American University in Washington D.C.
Nour, who is from Lebanon, is spending this year in the United States. She came a few months ago, and July's Israeli offensive in southern Lebanon is still fresh in her mind. She says it was hard to leave her family.
"Most people were shocked," said Nour Christidi. "They were like, 'How can you go after everything that has happened?' It is like you are a traitor. But I thought it was important. And especially after I got here, I realized how important it was to come here."
Nour is one of nearly 565,000 foreign students studying in the U.S.
The Institute of International Education, or IIE, keeps track of them. In a new report, the group says student levels are holding steady for the first time since 2002. It also says more foreign students are enrolling in the United States.
"I would never be able to meet so many international students back home," she said. "It's just incredible. I've met people from India, from Sweden, from Mexico, from all over the world, and it is just amazing."
India continues to send the most students followed by China and South Korea. Business continues to be the leading course of study.
Sang Min Lee is a student from South Korea. He says the mix of cultures offered in Washington, especially in the business community, was the reason he chose to study here.
"If you don't go to the Middle East, if you don't go to Europe, you can meet Europeans, you can meet people in Middle Asia [Middle East] right here in the U.S," said Sang Min Lee.
This year especially saw an increase in Middle Eastern students, due to programs like Saudi government scholarships.
Allan Goodman is the IIE's president. He says only about 150 U.S. campuses host one-half of the foreign students. He would like to see more colleges participate.
"International students bring a huge and valuable dimension to America," said Allan Goodman. "Most Americans don't have a passport. Most Americans don't travel abroad."
Still, more U.S. students are choosing to study abroad. This year shows a trend away from Europe and toward non-traditional countries, including China, Argentina, Brazil and India. Goodman says this should continue.
"More and more of the world is affecting how we live, how we create our economy, where we create our jobs, where we create our business," he said.
Goodman says the U.S. government and universities strive to create a welcoming atmosphere for all students.
"No matter where they go in the United States, they will find a family, a friend, a mosque, a church, a temple to worship at," noted Goodman. "They'll be welcomed as students. They'll be welcomed as young citizens. They'll be welcomed as people."
And Nour agrees. She cautions future exchange students from making the mistake of associating only with people from their own countries.
"That's not the point in coming," she said. "I would definitely advise them to come, meet American people, try to listen to the other side and keep an open mind and stay positive. And definitely voice your opinion. It is really important that you do that."