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International Students Add Spice to College Life

"There is nothing better than a potluck in an international lab. Can you imagine having contributions from China, India, Bulgaria, France, and Korea?" says Dr. Ned Hahn, an associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology.

The diversity of graduate students' cultural backgrounds at the College is like a potluck, with each student bringing a unique set of ideas and experiences. International students come to Illinois for an experience that, for a number of reasons, may not be available to them in their home countries.

According to Dr. Hahn, international students are attracted to the College because of its reputation. Our reputation is strengthened through faculty collaborations at institutions in Germany, Brazil, Argentina, China, Italy, and Chile. Articles in veterinary journals and former graduate students who return to their native countries also spread the word about Illinois. The College Web site is another source of information for prospective students worldwide.

Varied Roads Lead to Illinois
Dr. Luis Gondim, graduate student from Brazil, had met Dr. Walter Hoffmann, veterinary pathobiology, when Dr. Hoffmann was lecturing in Brazil. Dr. Gondim was also attracted by the neosporosis research done by Dr. Milton McAllister, veterinary pathobiology, who now serves as Dr. Gondim's advisor.

Dr. David Gross, head of the veterinary biosciences department, said most international graduate students in his program come through word of mouth, referred by someone who was previously in the program. "Many come for specific skills they can get only here," he says.
[Dr. Srikanth Yellayi]
Dr. Srikanth Yellayi, above, has a strong relationship with his adviser Dr. Paul Cooke.

Dr. Srikanth Yellayi of Bangalore, India, heard about the College from a professor in India who had received a doctorate in physiology from the University of Illinois. Similarly, Dr. Peiyong Zhai was recommended through a colleague at the teaching hospital of a medical university in China, where Dr. Zhai worked for 2 1/2 years.

International students have been coming to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital for years to complete an internship or residency, and the new doctoral program in clinical medicine offers an additional attraction.

Dr. Shola Sulaimon earned a DVM in Nigeria and a master's degree in preventive medicine from the University of California-Davis, but came to Illinois to work on her doctorate in oncology, doing melanoma research. She expects more emphasis on how to work with people, since the veterinary program in Nigeria was mostly based in theory.

In addition, many international graduate students in clinical medicine--more than 20 in the past decade--come through an exchange program between the College and Hannover University in Germany.

Advantages in Freedom, Faculty, Facilities
Illinois can offer many educational opportunities that schools abroad do not. Dr. Wanda Haschek-Hock, veterinary pathobiology, points out that the College has strong graduate research opportunities for both DVMs and non-DVMs.

Dr. Stefan Tunev of Bulgaria says that at Illinois there is more opportunity and money for research, as well as the freedom to do the research that one wants to do. In his view, European research has very focused goals that do not allow for much student choice regarding research subject matter and methods. Dr. Tunev will also have the opportunity here to be certified by the American College of Veterinary Pathologists, which will open paths to jobs all over the world.
[Dr. Stefan Tunev (left) with his adviser Dr. Milton McAllister]
At left, Dr. Stefan Tunev, shown with his adviser Dr. Milton McAllister, appreciates the freedom to choose his research projects at Illinois.

Dr. Gross believes that the methods of teaching at Illinois are also valuable to international students. Both Dr. Zhai and Dr. Yellayi cite the mentor/student interaction at Illinois as the most enjoyable part of the program for them.

"I have great advisors--Paul Cooke, veterinary biosciences, and Cory Teuscher, veterinary pathology. They give me a lot of flexibility to do my research. I had absolutely no qualms about coming here," says Dr. Yellayi. Dr. Zhai said that his mentor, Dr. Gross, has a fair hand and knows Dr. Zhai's interests.

Dr. Warwick Arden, head of veterinary clinical medicine, emphasizes the hands-on experiences students receive here that are not a part of the European system. He adds, "I think it would be fair to say that specialty veterinary medicine is more developed here than in other parts of the world. All sub-disciplines--cardiology, neurology, oncology, specialty tissue surgery, critical care, etc.--are well-represented here. This is not the case in most other countries."

Dr. Sara Ayres, of Canada, came to Illinois because it is one of only two schools in North America that offer a surgical oncology fellowship. The program at Illinois gives her the opportunity to work with medical oncology and see how chemotherapy and radiation treatments fit with surgery.

In addition to the sub-disciplines, Illinois can offer advanced technological equipment such as CT, MRI, nuclear medicine, and specialized ICUs. "Here you understand how things are supposed to be, as opposed to when there is lack of facilities," says Dr. Sulaimon.

Diversity Enriches Illinois
The presence of international students is a benefit to the College. All three departments credit international students with bringing diversity of ideas, problem-solving strategies and attitudes to their programs.

"Foreign students bring us a part of their culture, which leads to the breakdown of cultural barriers and increased understanding," says Dr. Hahn.

Dr. Gross adds that, "They tend to be very, very good students. Many from China are in the top one percent of their country. We get the cream of the crop."

Dr. Haschek-Hock notes that professors have learned from international students about the ways that cultures influence how people learn. Professors find that international students are a great asset to them because of their strong work ethic, motivation, and willingness to take on extra responsibilities. However, she estimates that the Department of Pathobiology can accept only about five percent of its international applicants because financial support is limited.

Where Are They Now?
Here are a few of the international students who have graduated from our College.
* Dr. Roberto Galvez, a dean at Universidad Peru, master's in pathology in 198
* Dr. Harm Hogen Esch, professor at Purdue University, PhD in pathology, 1989
* Dr. Sheerin Mathur, research coordinator at the University of Georgia, master's in large animal medicine and surgery, 2000
* Dr. Federico Montealegre, professor at the University of Puerto Rico, PhD in microbiology/immunology, 1986
* Dr. Gideon Motelin, professor at Egerton University in Kenya, master's in pathology, 1992
* Dr. Fei (Victor) Pang, professor at Taiwan National University, PhD in microbiology/immunology, 1986
* Dr. Edward F. Srour, professor and scientific director at Indiana University/Purdue University, PhD in microbiology/immunology, 1986
* Dr. Mary Tompkins ('80), professor at North Carolina State University, PhD in microbiology/ immunology, 1984

Overcoming Barriers, Moving On
While international students' reaction to the College is very positive overall, there are still difficulties in adjusting to the culture of a new country. Students say they miss their families and have trouble adapting to the climate of Illinois. Dr. Yellayi and other students from India have to adapt to living in a capitalistic rather than a socialistic society. "Life is a lot more laid back in India. You feel under constant pressure here," he says.

Dr. Tunev spoke little English when he first came to the United States. The most difficult adjustment for him was learning the confusing idioms, phrases, and verbs of the English language, as well as differences in body language. He says, "You have to submerse yourself in the culture to be a good presenter and communicator, skills veterinarians need."

Students' plans for the future are as diverse as the countries from which they come. Dr. Tunev came to the United States to start his life over again, and that's exactly what he is doing. He has no plans to return to Bulgaria. Dr. Gondim will return to his job in Brazil. He is excited at the prospect of trying to improve his field in his native country. Dr. Yellayi would like to do post-doctoral work in genetics so that later he can help doctors in India set up research and study. Dr. Ayres would like to set up a private referral practice in Ontario since there are very few veterinary oncologists in Canada. Others, like Dr. Sulaimon and Dr. Zhai, would like to remain in the United States to continue research. Dr. Zhai is now doing post-doctoral research at Johns Hopkins Medical School.

Though their backgrounds and cultures are diverse, they now share a common experience through their education at the College. Whether they have pursued their own research interests or learned a clinical sub-specialty, the bottom line is that they have all benefited. And the College is undoubtedly a better place for having had them.

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