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
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, 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.
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
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
| Dr. Gideon
Motelin, professor at Egerton University in Kenya, master's in pathology,
| Dr. Fei
(Victor) Pang, professor at Taiwan National University, PhD in microbiology/immunology,
| 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.