BLOOMINGTON — Illinois Wesleyan University senior Iyinogooluwa Ajayi of Nigeria remembers well her arrival on campus three years ago.
Opening the door to her room, the accounting major noticed it was clean and nice but, said Ajayi, “it was so dull.”
Ajayi’s sister, Moyoniuoluwa, and others among the record number of incoming international students who began arriving Tuesday at IWU now are receiving a more colorful, personal welcome.
A handmade, stuffed owl with an individually written message on the back is on each international student’s bed.
Maureen “Reenie” Bradley, international student and scholar adviser, said, “We tried to make something portable” that was also gender neutral and didn’t favor or offend one culture.
“It seemed like a nice project when we were talking about 20 students,” Bradley said.
But when projected international enrollment doubled from last year’s 25 to an expected 50, Bradley had her doubts and called for reinforcements.
Within 20 minutes of an emailed call for help, Bradley received responses — including one from Patricia Wilson, wife of IWU President Richard Wilson, who donated material. The owls were made by international students already at IWU, with some staff help.
Surrounded by boxes of stuffed owls in her office, Bradley said, “This is a visual of how many international we have this year. This is a lot of owls.”
Orientation for international students will cover everything from setting up bank accounts and riding city buses to crossing streets and not petting squirrels on the quad. Classes for all students start on Monday.
Bradley said 75 percent of international students at IWU make the dean’s list.
“It’s such a deeper commitment for the international students,” Bradley said. “They’re very involved on campus and in the community.”
Ajayi says simply, “You know what you’re here for.”
Two cousins came to IWU before Ajayi and a third cousin is a student now. Ajayi said homesickness “wasn’t a problem.” She spends time with other students from Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. They share their culture and food with other international students and the campus community.
The students also learn about American culture as faculty and staff workers invite groups of two to a family meal in their homes. The international students have weekly meetings that include food tasting from time to time.
“We did Peeps around Easter time,” Bradley said.
More than 100 international students from 21 countries will attend IWU this school year.
“The older ones help the younger ones, mentoring the ones who come in behind them,” Bradley said.
By the numbers
21 Countries represented by the more than 100 international students at IWU.
35 Previous record high for new international students, 2008-09 academic year.
50 New international students expected at Illinois Wesleyan University this fall.
150 Previous record at ISU,
set last year.
180 Expected number of new international students at Illinois State University this fall.
500 Total international students at ISU.