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.”

Art Planned for Green Line Extension

By Claire Felter
BU News Service

On a large projector screen in a dimmed conference room is a two-dimensional visual of the future Washington Street T Station in Somerville. The image displays a brand new gallery, a hallway clear of the grime that collects over time in older subway stations. There is something else absent as well, though. Several hologram-like people placed into the picture stare at a stark white wall – an allusion to the filling of these blank panels with artwork when the station is constructed in several years’ time.

“There are opportunities for art and some really unique architecture,” said Karen Arpino-Schaffer to the room filled with artists.

Schaffer is the Deputy Program Manager for HDR/Gilbane, the Program and Construction Management team for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Green Line Extension (GLX).

The February 6th information session where these station visuals were displayed was one of the first steps for the GLX Arts Commission Project, which will procure several artists to help design art for the new stations. The MBTA’s design team gave an overview of plans for the new Washington Street, Union Square and Lechmere stations and identified potential spots where art could be incorporated.

Marggie Lackner, MBTA Director of Design and Architecture, said that there had been interest in including an artistic aspect from the beginning stages of the Green Line Extension project.

“When we were having early community meetings throughout the corridor, a number of people, many of whom represented art organizations, made it clear that they wanted to have art somehow involved with the project,” Lackner said during a phone interview.

Lackner’s team didn’t know, though, if funds would be allocated towards an arts project. In December, Richard Davey, Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, made the announcement that 0.5 percent of construction costs of the new stations, estimated at $225,000, was to be dedicated to art. Lackner and her colleagues had already drafted an integrated art policy that conformed to Federal Transit Authority guidelines. Once they received notice that funds would be available, the team drew up a request for qualifications to bring a few artists on to the team. A selection committee will choose up to three artists, each of whom will receive a portion of the budget as compensation for their work.

Joe Barillaro, artist and Somerville resident, is one of the applicants vying for a spot on the design team. No stranger to public art, Barillaro has done two large-scale murals in Somerville parks and he repurposed an old phone box in Davis Square as part of a Somerville Arts Council project.

“I have been able to branch out and do a little public art,” Barillaro said. “It’s something I want to be able to dial up, but I usually have to do free or on a volunteer basis.”

Barillaro has made a living for the past 20 years by designing pieces for theatre and movie sets. He said he thought his extensive experience in set design could translate well to integrating art within larger structural elements.

“It sounded like something that would be up my alley,” said Barillaro.

In compliance with the integrated art policy written for the project, the art won’t be akin to pieces in a museum, or sculptures found in parks or town squares. The works will only be enhancements to building features like lighting, fencing and paneling, which would already be required within the construction of the stations.

Similar projects can be seen in public transit systems all over the world in places such as Taiwan, Paris, and Singapore. In 2012, the Memphis Area Transit Authority in Tennessee sought artists to design bus stop shelters.

With works by more than 150 artists, over 90 of Stockholm’s 100 subway stations are now adorned with art. The city’s tourism site boasts that the transit system is the world’s longest art exhibit at 110 kilometers. The Metropolitan Transit Authority claims a similar feat on its site, stating that the New York City subway is the world’s largest art museum. The online Subway Art Guide shows 274 different works, all commissioned through New York City’s Arts for Transit program.

The GLX project isn’t even the first of its kind in Boston. In the late 1970s, the Cambridge Arts Council and MBTA received grants for a program titled Arts on the Line, which would place contemporary works into subway stations that were part of the then-ongoing Red Line Extension. Twenty pieces of art were incorporated into the Harvard Square, Porter Square, Davis Square and Alewife stations. The program was later expanded to twelve more stations, according to the Harvard Square website, and the MBTA partnered with nonprofit UrbanArts in the 1980s to bring art to stations along the Orange Line.

Despite the similarities to past initiatives, Lackner states that the process for creating the Arts Commission for the new Green Line stations has been quite different from the Arts on the Line project.

“The state required that there be a percent for art, and that’s how the Arts on the Line project happened,” Lackner said.

Without policy necessitating the use of federal funds for art, the push has to come from somewhere else – in this case, from heads like Secretary Davey who happen to be arts supporters.

Statements by project sponsors typically cite a desire to enhance the rider experience as the main reason for commissioning art in public transportation systems, but the question arises whether or not public art in spaces like transit stations has any real impact.

Ixia, a public art think tank based in Birmingham, England, conducted a 2012 survey of nearly 600 people and found that participants felt the most important role of public art lay in shaping local, regional, and national identities.

Similar conclusions came out of a survey of approximately 43,000 people done by The Knight Foundation and Gallup, which found that an area’s aesthetics ranked in the top three qualities, along with openness and social offerings such as entertainment venues, which drive a person’s attachment to his or her community.

For Lackner, the only question was if the funding would come. There was never doubt about the project being beneficial to residents.

“Most people would like to have art in transit,” Lackner said, “and we just haven’t been able to do it for some time.”

Lackner was already envisioning a more subtle benefit for Green Line riders when she spoke to potential applicants at the information session.

“Not everyone will be reading the signs,” she said, “but maybe they can read the art, and know that they’re home.”