UA international students receive a Wilma-and-Wilbur welcome at the Student Union Memorial Center's Grand Ballroom.
UA international students receive a Wilma-and-Wilbur welcome at the Student Union Memorial Center's Grand Ballroom.

Robbins, UA Welcome 1,000 International Students to Campus

With cross-cultural conversations and social events this month, international students have begun their academic and research journeys at the University.
Aug. 16, 2017
Extra Info: 

Housed within the UA Office of Global Initiatives, International Student Services assists with immigration guidance, academic resources, cultural connections and social events. For more information about specific programs, visit https://global.arizona.edu/international-students.

University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins welcomed approximately 1,000 international students to the UA for the fall semester during an energetic presentation in the Grand Ballroom of the Student Union Memorial Center.

"You've come from a long distance, many of you, maybe for the first time being away from home," Robbins said. "This is going to be a big transition. But I can tell you, you cannot have found a more hospitable, welcoming environment than the University of Arizona."

During the first day of International Student Orientation, on Aug. 8, students representing more than 100 countries connected over laughter and a visit from mascots Wilbur and Wilma.

Robbins made it clear to them that the UA has an abundance of activities, and he encouraged the students to become involved.

"Football season is coming up very soon," he said. "That's going to be an exciting time across campus. And then there's basketball and baseball and softball — so many sports to get involved in. The school spirit and the dedication, you'll be able to feel it on campus. Hopefully, with all your support we can win more football games than we did last year!"

Dave Heeke, the UA's director of athletics, also tapped into the global Wildcat spirit during an event at Gallagher Theater, explaining the Bear Down chant, the Wildcat nickname and the famous "WC" hand symbol.

"Interestingly enough, that symbol was created by an international student — one of our swimmers from England — so it is something maybe all of you can identify with," Heeke said. "This is a world-class university with people from all over the world, and we're excited that we all share in these traditions."

Organized by International Student Services within the UA Office of Global Initiatives, International Student Orientation included three days of activities, ranging from informational sessions and campus tours to pancake breakfasts and a party at the Student Recreation Center.

"The most exciting part of your career, your adventure, at the University of Arizona is learning, but also meeting people from all over the world," said Suzanne Panferov, interim vice president of global initiatives, as she addressed the new Wildcats. "We have about 40,000 students at the University of Arizona. Of that, about 4,000 are international, so you have a really important role here to help us learn about the world."

At least two of the new arrivals weren't exactly new.

"Six years ago, I came to the UA as an exchange student studying political philosophy," said Ron Chau, a doctoral student from Australia. "I changed careers, and returned to the UA to study existential psychology because the UA is one of the best schools for that."

Leticia Vazquez Bengochea, a graduate student from Spain, also returned to the UA.

"I came to the UA two years ago to study chemical engineering for a semester as an exchange student, and now I am here for my master's degree," she said. "I loved the UA so much that I wanted to come back."

Robbins acknowledged the trend of declining international student enrollment across the United States, but he assured students they are welcome at the UA.

"Because of a variety of different political events, the number of international students coming to universities across the United States is down, and that's unfortunate," he said. "But I am very confident that you are going to have a great experience here."

Over the past 10 years, the UA has experienced a significant increase in international students, going from about 2,300 in 2007 to 4,000 today.

Beyond the academic and cultural contributions that international students bring to the community, they also make a significant economic impact.

The latest figures from NAFSA: Association of International Educators, a nonprofit dedicated to international education, estimate that international students from the UA contribute $162.4 million to the economy and support 2,442 jobs annually. The highest percentage of spending occurs in higher education, followed by accommodations, dining and retail.

Robbins recognized that globalization is fueling rapid change in all aspects of students' lives, from the way they shop to the way they travel, and he highlighted the importance of international education in staying ahead of the curve.

"The world is changing rapidly, and you are part of it," he said. "You are part of this globalization that's sweeping the world at a very rapid rate, and the University of Arizona is really embracing this change.

"The strength of our campus is built on diversity, and you represent a geographically diverse group. I look forward to visiting with as many of you as I can. I'll be out there. I'll be involved. Bear with it. Bear Down. Go Wildcats!"