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Foreign Students Still Flock to US Universities, Undaunted by Terror Attacks - 2001-12-07

Foreign students, undaunted by the terrorist attacks of September 11, are still flocking to study at American universities. That is good news for all involved parties, not least of all the U.S. economy.

International students contribute more than $11 billion to the U.S. economy. So when the number of foreign students studying in the United States increases 6.4 percent from last year, which a recent study says it has, it has a big impact.

To Allan Goodman, the president of the Institute of International Education (IIE), it is indicative of a minor cultural revolution. "America continues to be the number-one destination of choice for students who want to study in a culture beyond their own, and that every year more and more students, both American and others want to do this," he says. "I think that is a sign that everybody is getting globalization right."

The 6.4 percent increase, the largest yearly increase in the past 20 years, is one of many statistics included in "Open Doors 2001: The Annual Report on International Education", just released by the institute. The report also includes detailed information on the number of Americans studying abroad, which has grown 61 percent during the past five years.

The Institute has released the Open Doors report every year since 1949.

Mr. Goodman says this year is different in only one respect: it includes a look at what international education professionals are experiencing on their campuses in the aftermath of September 11. "So far, 90 plus percent say there has been very little impact," he says. "People are not canceling plans, and I think actually, while it is too soon to tell, we are going to see that this is going to increase, not decrease, people's interest in studying other cultures."

New York University hosts more foreign students than any other school in the nation. Bernardo Bichara, a student from Mexico getting his masters degree in business at New York University, was unfazed by the attack on the World Trade Center. "I never gave it a second thought," he says, "I was determined to continue, like the city was determined to continue, and go on. I did feel deeply for all the tragedy, there was too much suffering going on, but I would say that you cannot be let down or put back by this type of act. In my case, just like the whole city, we decided to move on and continue our day-to-day lives."

For Shanghai native Jennifer Zhao, studying international affairs at NYU, September 11 not only failed to frighten her away from New York, it drew her further in. "I did not appreciate the city very much, to tell the truth and after that, my friends and I just explored the city, beginning right after that," she says. "We began to explore the city: We went to the neighborhoods, in Soho, in the East Village, we went uptown to dine out in the restaurants that we have never done before. We suddenly realized it would take Shanghai many, many years to catch up with the culture and the rich diversity. On every corner, the corner stores reflect the rich culture and the history of new York City that other cities cannot compete with."

There are many thousands more like Ms.Zhao and Mr. Bichara in America. Ms. Zhao's homeland, China, sends more students to the United States than any other country, nearly 60,000.

Close on China's heels is India, which sends almost 55,000. For the first time India has surpassed long-time number two, Japan, which like many other parts of Asia has suffered a decline due to the economic downturn in the region. Mexico is the 10th largest contributor of foreign students to American universities.

It is the stories these students tell that remind us that the profitability of international study must not be only measured in economic terms. As Allan Goodman says, "international education is one of the best tools for developing mutual understanding and building connections between people from different countries."