BU’s International Students: Decision to Go Home After Graduation Depends on Field of Study

By Claire Felter
BU News Service

When Derrick Muwina (STH’16) came to the United States for the first time in 2006 to study at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, he said he knew within a few weeks that he wanted to stay in the country long-term. After receiving his Master’s degree in Theological Studies in 2008, he made a trip back to his native Zambia. Now he’s back in Boston, perhaps to stay.

“Being away from this place kind of made it even more obvious that I wanted to come back, and that’s what I did,” Muwina said at Boston University’s George Sherman Union.

The next year Muwina returned to Cambridge to complete his second Master’s, and in 2010 he began his doctoral work at BU’s School of Theology. Muwina has two more years left in his program, after which he can either look for work as a church pastor or get a teaching job. He said he isn’t sure yet which option he will pursue, but he is hoping he can continue to live in the U.S.

“There are far much more opportunities here than I can get back home and especially in the field in which I am – theological or religious studies,” said Muwina. “We don’t have that many opportunities back home.”

That’s not what the research is saying, though.

Last April, New Vision, a daily newspaper in Uganda, printed an article entitled, “Students return as greener pastures dry up.” The article makes the assertion that large numbers of students from developing countries who complete their studies abroad are returning home to find employment. The piece quotes several studies, including a 2010 report by the International Organization of Migration, which focused on East Africans living in the United Kingdom.

Similarly, Jacana Partners, a private equity firm based in the UK, Kenya and Ghana, surveyed African MBA students who were studying in Western business schools at the end of 2012. 70 percent of respondents said they plan to work in Africa after graduation.

The New Vision article also posits that this inclination to return home is a more recent development, one now referred to as “brain gain,” a reference to the opposing “brain drain,” a term coined by the British Royal Society to describe the outflow of scientists from their country to North America in the 1950s. The term was soon appropriated to describe the emigration of skilled workers from regions of developing countries in the 1970s and 80s.

Other studies have looked more broadly than the African continent. Researchers from Harvard, Duke, and UC Berkeley worked with the Kauffman Foundation to examine the possibility of America’s losing its skilled and knowledgeable students from countries like India and China. More than 1,200 foreign students completed the study’s survey and the report showed that 55 percent of Indian students and 40 percent of Chinese students wanted to return home within five years.

So why the disparity between the research findings and Muwina’s view? Because Muwina isn’t studying to be a software developer or an entrepreneur. Graduate student Weiwen Zhao (COM’15) knows this from first-hand experience.

Zhao is from the Hunan province of China and completed her undergraduate studies in engineering at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. She said she wasn’t passionate about the field, though, and so after interning for China Newsweek magazine, she decided to come to BU to pursue a career in journalism. Zhao agreed with Muwina that when it comes to abundance or lack of job opportunities, it’s more about the field than the location.

“It depends. Especially in journalism, it’s kind of different from other majors like engineering or something that is more technical,” she said.

Zhao said that when she told her Chinese classmates here at BU that she had left the engineering field, they knew the risk she was taking, no matter if she stayed in the States or returned to southern China.

“They said, ‘Are you crazy?’” said Zhao.

While the results of these research studies are generalized in the media, forging the appearance of an overall exodus from the West, a closer look at the types of survey respondents shows a skew towards students in scientific and technical fields or business programs.

Of the participants in the Kauffman Foundation study, more than 50 percent of the Indian students were studying engineering and nearly half of the Chinese students were either in the engineering field or business field. So students of the humanities or social sciences, like Muwina and Zhao, might not be finding their own situations well represented in the discussion on brain gain.

These reports often cite the slowing down of economic growth and hikes in unemployment in the United States over the last decade as potential reasons for the growing trend. High growth rates in many African nations and Zhao’s China, along with the comforts of family and a familiar culture and language, make a compelling argument for international students to come back after several years in a new country.

The research on brain gain skims over another facet of the decision-making process, though, where the pull factor of greater opportunity in one’s own country isn’t sufficient. For some, the decision to stay or leave is more complex than percent rates of growth and a list of corporations looking to hire.

Sohrab Mikanik (MET’13), an alumnus of BU’s Metropolitan College who now works for the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, said that there are more career prospects for him in his home country of Iran.

“I actually have better job opportunities back home because the government in Iran has changed. It’s getting better and better every day,” Mikanik said during a phone interview. “They’re trying to offer students who are studying abroad good offers to get them back into the country.”

Mikanik said, however, that the social freedoms he has in the United States trump a high-paying job in a politically unstable Iran.

“That’s not enough for me to go back home. I’m comfortable here. It’s not just about the job,” he said. “I can easily make more money back home than I can here, but I’m not going back in the near future. The social and political aspects are more important for me.”

Boston University Students Remember Last Year’s Marathon, Look Forward

By Samantha Mellman

BU News Service

As runners lined up today for the 2014 Boston Marathon, stories of last year’s race continued to emerge from participants and spectators who experienced and survived the bomb-scarred event. These are the stories of two Boston University graduates, runner Azeem Khan and spectator Montserrat Bravo.

Months before the 2013 Boston Marathon, Khan thought to himself: This may be my last year living in Boston and my last opportunity to run in the marathon. At 25 years old, Khan spent six years at BU earning a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2010 and a master’s degree in medical sciences in 2012. He began training in December 2012 for the 2013 Boston Marathon. As his first-ever marathon, he knew well in advance that he would not be able to qualify for the race, so instead he ran for the American Liver Foundation. He set a goal of $4,500 in donations and met it before race day.

Montserrat Bravo, a 2013 BU graduate, lived in the same dormitory on 81 Bay State Road with Khan during her junior year of college and his second year as a graduate student. Bravo and her friends woke up early on marathon day to try and get close to the finish line to watch Khan finish the race.

“We were excited and really wanted to be there for him,” said Bravo.

Khan created a Facebook page as a time capsule for friends and family to get updates on his training and fundraising up to the marathon. He decided for race day he wanted to have his cellphone on him to allow anyone to call or text him words of encouragement while he was running.

“While I was running the race I received 20 to 30 phone calls,” said Khan. “When I got to mile 23 near Coolidge Corner my phone started buzzing off the hook.”

Bravo and her friends were near Boylston and Exeter streets trying to get closer to the finish line, but the sidewalks were crowded with onlookers. A security guard told them that they couldn’t go into the VIP area. Moments later the first bomb exploded near the finish line.

“At first I just thought something in a kitchen had exploded since there are many restaurants there. My other friend thought it had been fireworks,” said Bravo. “Then we heard the second explosion and we saw the smoke and heard people screaming.”

Bravo said all she could think about was 9/11. She and her friends began speed-walking toward Huntington Avenue back to Kenmore Square.

“I started getting text messages and then phone calls from friends hysterical asking, ‘Are you okay, are you okay?’ and ‘Please don’t go to the finish line,’” said Khan. “I had no idea what anyone was talking about, because everyone around me throughout the entire race had been completely fine.”

Khan said he might have been one of the first runners in his area to know about the mayhem that was unfolding on Boylston Street. Within 10 to 12 minutes of hearing the news he said the entire mood changed. By mile 24, as he approached Kenmore Square, the police and military quarantined the area and told the runners that the race was over.

Khan’s belongings, including his cell phone charger, were waiting for him in a bag at the finish line. At mile 24, before cell phone services were cut off, Khan sent a Facebook post saying he was okay. He immediately began searching for his brother Ahmad, who was supposed to be waiting for him at the finish line.

“Runners were on the sidewalk crying and trying to console each other because they couldn’t reach their families, who were waiting for them at the finish line,” said Khan.

As he walked through the crowd, people brought their radios and televisions to the sidewalks to see what was happening in Copley Square. Khan was able to reunite with his brother and they went straight to a friend’s house for the rest of the day.

“It was one of the most interesting days of my life,” said Khan. “The only thing I thought that was kind of dumb, was that I was angry I didn’t finish. I raised $4,500 for this charity, I trained for months and months, I was two miles away from finishing the race, and I didn’t get to finish.”

Khan was emotionally shocked and took the rest of the week off from work. While spending time with friends they all tried to wrap their heads around what had occurred.

Khan received phone calls and Facebook messages from radio and television shows to appear as the voice of a Muslim who ran the race. He had no idea how they got his contact information and was bombarded by different media in the following weeks. He wrote a commentary for the Huffington Post from the perspective of a Pakistani Muslim on his thoughts from running the marathon to the city’s lockdown.

Khan will be returning to the Boston Marathon this year not as a runner, but to support a friend who ran with him last year. Khan said he ran the first 17 miles of the race with him, but he was slowing him down by one to two minutes each mile. Khan didn’t want to leave him behind and stayed with him.

“Around mile 17, he said, ‘I need to take a full-on break. You should go on ahead without me,’” said Khan. After the bombs went off, Khan realized that staying with his friend had an unintended benefit. “If you add up all the time he slowed me down for the amount of miles he slowed me down, [when the bombs went off] I would’ve been at the finish line or much closer or just crossed it.”

Marathon Memorials Around Boston

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Boston University News Service reporter Annie Chernich checks out exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Boston Public Library, and Christopher Padgett’s photo project, “Bled for Boston.” Each will be open to the public for the rest of this month and the MFA is free to the public on Saturday.

Homesickness a Major Concern for International, Out-Of-State Students

By Saba Aziz
BU News Service

From the city of Chennai in South India to ‘The Hub’ in America, more commonly known as Boston, Sandhya Ramachandran has traveled a long way to attend graduate school. Ramachandran is studying film production at Boston University’s College of Communication and as she struggles to feel at ease amidst the sea of students walking down Commonwealth Avenue, there is something glaringly missing: home.

“I started to feel homesick almost immediately after getting here,” Ramachandran said. “Actually, about a week after all the orientation ceremony madness died down. It may have something to do with the fact that I live alone and came here without a buddy tagging along – something many international students do – and I have no family in this part of the U.S.A.”

Like Ramachandran, thousands of international students come to Boston University each year, representing a total of 130 countries. An even bigger proportion of students are American students who are not from the Boston area, so homesickness is not an entirely alien concept for many BU students.

As defined by clinical psychologists Dr. Christopher A. Thurber and Edward A. Walton in the Journal of American College Health, homesickness is “the distress or impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home. Its cognitive hallmark is preoccupying thoughts of home and attachment objects. Sufferers typically report depression and anxiety, withdrawn behavior and difficulty focusing on topics unrelated to home.”

Student Health services at BU deal with many such cases, especially at the beginning of the academic year in September.

“For the first couple of weeks, students come in, they say they’ve made a mistake, it’s the wrong school, they shouldn’t be here, they don’t like their roommate and are thinking about transferring,” Dr. Margaret S. Ross, the director of Behavioral Medicine at Student Health Services, said.

In Ross’s experience, there have been instances when extremely unhappy students have left BU, but usually students get used to their new environment and after some time, college becomes their home.

While nearly all students miss something about home when they are away, some feel nostalgia more than others.

“I think sometimes students come from more complicated families, and they tend to feel more that they miss being there,” Ross said.

Fatima Abou Nassif, from Lebanon, is a graduate student studying public relations at BU’s College of Communication. She said she started feeling homesick as soon as she left her hometown of Beirut and realized that her comfortable routine had changed.

“I was entering a phase of unknowns, new classmates, new friends, new house, new routine,” Nassif said.

With no close Arab connections in Boston, Nassif said she misses speaking Arabic and eating Arabic food. But it’s her youngest brother’s absence she feels the most.

“Being away made me realize how big a part he has in my daily life,” Nassif said. “I miss watching TV with him, and I miss picking him up from his friend’s house. And believe it or not, these are things I look forward to when I go back home to visit.”

While Nassif, 21, has traveled almost 5,000 miles to come to Boston, Canadian Rebecca DeLuca, who is just an hour-long plane ride away from her home in Toronto, said she feels just as homesick. DeLuca is also a graduate student in her second semester and she frequently flies home over the weekends to see her family. She felt more homesick as the weather started getting colder in December.

“I was like, ‘Christmas is coming, the holidays are coming,’ and it was a little intense,” DeLuca said. “Now that it’s getting to spring-time, just like that change of season, I think that’s what really triggers the homesickness for me.”

For most of the international students like Nassif, time difference is another factor which adds to the homesickness.

“What happens when you go back home at the end of the night and before sleeping, your head decides to remind you that your friends and family back home are awake,” Nassif said. “Time difference is tricky because you end up feeling disconnected from home, even in terms of time.”

In some cases, homesickness might not necessarily have to do with home but the lack of compassion one feels from those around them. In a 2010 article by CNN’s Derrick Ho, he reports that experts said homesickness stems from our instinctive need for love, protection and security – feelings and qualities usually associated with home. When these qualities aren’t present in a new environment, we begin to long for them – and home.

Ramachandran, so used to having her mom listen to her as she talked about her day in great length, said she feels that lack of compassion here.

“At first, I was always angry because the people here seemed very self-centered and caught up in their own lives,” Ramachandran stated in an email. “The vibe I got was that nobody really cared about me. However, I slowly began to realize that making meaningful relationships is not just an international student problem, but most Americans are stumped when it comes to this.”

The Educational Benchmarking Incorporation conducted a survey about the impact of homesickness on retention and academic performance in 2012. It was found that students who experienced distress related to homesickness had lower grade point averages, with a mean of 2.63.

“Homesickness has not affected me academically, thankfully,” Nassif said. “It does affect me emotionally. I get easily distracted. I find myself constantly checking Facebook and Whatsapp, communicating with my loved ones back home. Unfortunately, Lebanon’s unstable situation causes me to worry over people back home so I find myself spending a lot of time making sure they are okay when I hear of an unfortunate incident.”

To support its students, BU offers a variety of behavioral medicine groups and workshops throughout the year. A freshman adjustment support group gives first year students the opportunity to discuss challenges adjusting to college life. There are also depression support groups as well as an international student support group, which meets once a week, for students to express anxiety and homesickness.

Chinese students make up 35 percent of the international student population at BU, and the Chinese Students Association is a way for students from China to experience some form of a “home away from home.” Similarly, there are many other international clubs, where BU students speak their native languages and get a sense that they are not alone. Also, the BU dorms for undergraduates assign a resident assistant to each floor, who can serve as a role model and peer advisor for students.

“When we see students who are struggling, we often call in the deans of students and they’ll meet with them, find activities that they’re interested in,” Ross said. “We encourage students to be active on campus, to be busy, to get out of their room and meet people.”

Technology, which allows constant contact with loved ones back home, has played a pivotal role in helping students cope with homesickness. Long gone are the days when one would wait for weeks to receive handwritten letters in the mail. DeLuca talks on Skype with her mom every day and exchanges texts about hockey plays with her dad when the Toronto Maple Leafs are playing.

“When the game is on, if my family’s eating pizza, I’ll make myself pizza while we’re both watching the game,” DeLuca said. “I’m not really there, but I can still try to keep a schedule of things that we love doing together.”

To fill her void of homesickness, Ramachandran keeps herself distracted with school work and a part time job as a conference coordinator.

“The solution is patience, I guess,” she said. “It definitely helps once you start building a support system here and don’t have to Skype with your mom every time you feel nervous about something or feel down.”

Saucony’s Limited Edition Running Shoes

By Tafi Mukunyadzi
BU News Service

BOSTON–Even though is was a blistery, yet warm, Monday night and exactly one week before the 2014 Boston Marathon, runners were partying on Boylston Street.

Saucony and the Marathon Sports store rolled out the green carpet to welcome the fortunate few who managed to snag a pair of the Kinvara 5 Boston Edition running shoes. Just a few feet away from the legendary race’s finish line, a line of runners formed within the Marathon Sports store’s compact space to pick up their pair of limited edition running gear that was available for pre-order on Marathon Sports’ website. Once they picked up their shoes,
runners walked a few blocks down Boylston Street to the Back Bay Social Club where they mingled with other Kinvaraphiles while enjoying cocktails and appetizers in the restaurant’s event space. Some guests were festively dressed in St. Patrick’s Day attire, while one couple walked around in green and yellow feather boas.

The footwear they were celebrating is unabashedly unique, much like the city it commemorates. Named after a small seaside village in Ireland, the shoe’s bright green and gold color scheme with shamrocks and “Boston” emblazoned across the sides and back oozes Irish pride and makes sure that its proud owner will be seen.

One of those people will be Dorchester resident, Alyssa Quattropani. With her black athletic jacket, neon-yellow t-shirt, and yoga pants, Quattropani looked ready to jump into her new shoes and take off at that very moment. Her brunette hair was pulled back by a ponytail and secured with a thin headband that read ‘13.1 Once Upon a Run,’ Quattropani said that she now owns all five versions of the ultra-lightweight Kinvara shoe. When asked why she decided to buy the limited edition shoes, Quattropani, who is running the Boston 5K this Saturday and hopes to run the Boston Half Marathon, said that she has always worn Saucony shoes so when a pair in honor of her hometown became available, she could not pass up the opportunity.

As excited as Quattropani was to get home, open her box, and see her shoes for the first time, she was even more excited to transfer the metal clip that read Boston Strong from the laces of the Kinvara 4s she was wearing to her new kicks.

The bright green 2014 running shoes are the fifth generation in the Kinvara collection, but only the third Boston Edition. According to Saucony General Manager of Apparel Todd Dalhausser, who was at the release party, the Lexington-based company sold 340 pairs of shoes within 48 hours, and that 130 of those pairs of shoes were picked up last night at the party. The rest of the pre-ordered shoes will be shipped to their owners. The general public will be able to purchase a pair through Saucony starting April 18th.

Dalhausser emphasized that Saucony did not produce a limited edition shoe because of the tragic events of last year’s Boston Marathon. “The community of runners is tight,” said Dalhausser and the latest edition is a way of celebrating that community and the city which has always been site of the unveiling of all new Kinvara designs. Saucony. All proceeds from this year’s limited edition Kinvara shoes will be donated to The One Fund.

BU Chinese Students Run for Lu Lingzi

By Chen Tong
BU News Service

Every day after class, Baiyun Yao, a doctoral student at Boston University, goes to the campus gym for a serious workout. She jogs on the indoor track or rides a stationary bike in preparation for her first marathon.

Yao has attended the Boston Marathon twice — as a volunteer and as part of the crowd, but this year she will attend as a runner in honor of Lu Lingzi, the Chinese student who died in the marathon bombing last April.

“I want to finish the journey Lingzi didn’t finish,” said Yao.

Yao has much in common with Lu.  Like Lu, Yao is from China and came to BU in her 20s. She is passionate about sports. Even though Yao didn’t know Lu, she feels a connection to her slain classmate; so she decided to train for the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Last April, Yao was on the sidelines, cheering on her friends as they ran by. Most finished the marathon in three hours, she said. So, when the two bombs exploded, they already went home.

BU Chinese Students Run for Lu Lingzi

“I felt so lucky… when I heard the news,” said Yao. Soon after the blast, emails and messages started arriving from her family and friends. It was not until two days later she learned a Chinese classmate had died in the bombing.

“It was such a sad story,” said Yao. “I was so shocked about Lingzi’s death.”

This February, right after the Chinese New Year, Yao learned that the Boston Athletic Association had given Lu’s family the option to choose seven athletes to run the race. The Lu’s decided to choose Boston University students. Yao thought about it for a few days, applied, and was chosen.

Yao said she relates to Lu because she knows what it is like to travel all the way from China to the United States.

“Chinese community at BU is like a big family. We will help Lingzi to finish her dream,” said Yao.

She also wants to send a message to the terrorists “Whatever happened can only make us stronger than ever before. We are gonna fight this together,” said Yao.

Yao is ready for the race, but she is not the only member of the Chinese community who wants to run for Lu. Among the seven runners, three are Chinese students.

Yujue Wang is a junior who is pursuing a bachelor dual degree in economics and finance. Like Yao, this year will be Wang’s first marathon as a racer. Wang said Lingzi’s death has become her motivation to reach the finish line.

“Lingzi carries so many similar characteristics with all of us — international students coming all the way from China and nation builders when returning home,” said Wang.

Being the only child in the family, Wang’s parents are concerned about her ability to run more than 20 miles. “But they feel proud of me for taking on this honorary commitment,” said Wang.

The money raised by the seven runners will go to the Lu Lingzi Scholarship Fund, which was created by Boston University shortly after the bombing. The scholarship aims at providing support to outstanding graduate students from China who want to come to BU. The fund now exceeds $1 million and the donations are still coming, according to the university news service, BU Today.

Besides honoring Lu by running, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at BU (BUCSSA) is planning to hold a memorial ceremony at Marsh Chapel next month. Group spokesman Zhixiu Jin, said they want to make a giant paper crane for Lu. In China, the paper crane symbolizes remembrance.

“We would like BU students to write down their notes on this giant paper,” said Jin. “Let it fly to the heaven and tell Lingzi how much we miss her.”

BUCSSA plans to put the paper crane in front of Marsh Chapel. The time and location of the ceremony will be announced later, but Jin said BUCSSA will try their best to provide those people who care about Lu with a way to share their feelings and love.

“We are one community,” said Jin. “We will make our promise to move on with her spirit.”

The Snake Hunters of Southern Florida

Burmese Pythons and other invasive large snakes have a stranglehold on the South Florida ecosystem. Reporter Eden Henricks has the story from the eyes of someone who does his part to rid the swamps of these invasive species.

Boston University Curling Club Gaining Popularity

Curling rocks at Broomstones Curling Club

By Andre Khatchaturian
BU News Service

The Boston University Curling Club has been experiencing a surge in popularity after the sport gained international exposure during the Sochi Olympics. Curling member Matt Huse is preparing for the 2014 College Curling National Tournament in Minnesota.