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The Daily Tar Heel

Chapel Hill lures international students

The Chapel Hill-Durham area ranks among the top 20 U.S. cities for its number of international students — and at UNC, it’s the business school that’s proving to be the biggest attraction. 

Chapel Hill and Durham have attracted a total of 11,503 international students between 2008 and 2012, according to the August report released by the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Most international students tend to come from emerging countries like China, India and South Korea, and they are seeking out STEM and business programs in particular. In Chapel Hill and Durham, 53.5 percent of them are studying in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Elizabeth Barnum, director of international student and scholar services at UNC, said that degrees in business, management, marketing and related support services attracted 410 international students in fall 2013 — significantly more than any other field of study.

“The Kenan-Flagler School of Business is a well-known brand, so a lot of students that are coming to study business are very interested in the type of training and experience that are offered there at all levels,” Barnum said.

She said her office assists international students in obtaining and maintaining the appropriate immigration status for studying, researching and teaching at UNC.

But she said UNC is limited in its ability to accept international students because the school caps its number of out-of-state students at 18 percent, which includes international students. 

Neil Ruiz, a senior policy analyst and associate fellow at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, is the author of the report. 

He found that nearly 26 percent of international students in the Chapel Hill-Durham area stay to complete optional practical training, which allows international students to work in the U.S. for a period of time after graduation. 

“They can be that bridge between the local employers and companies and schools located in the Durham-Chapel Hill area and Beijing, Shanghai, Bangalore,” he said.

Philip Sorensen, an international student from Copenhagen, Denmark in Kenan-Flagler’s GLOBE program, said he chose to participate because of the global exposure and connections it offers students. In the GLOBE program, students spend one semester each in Copenhagen, Hong Kong and Chapel Hill. 

“The people that I’ve gotten to meet through the program — that’s definitely the highlight for me, also the whole international experience,” he said. “I’d never been outside of Europe before.”

Sorensen said his favorite part of studying at UNC is getting the chance to experience life in an American college town. He said he plans to use the communication skills and resources he gains at UNC to go into consulting or finance.

“(UNC) is obviously a very, very good university, and it sort of has its own culture,” he said.

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