Over 400 international students call Lake Charles home for now as they pursue degrees at McNeese State University

With students from 45 countries, 22 states, and 37 parishes — students hail from such far-flung places as Egypt, Nepal and Zimbabwe —McNeese State University is a true melting pot.

Nikesh Kandel, president of the Nepalese Student Association and a senior majoring in engineering, had never been to the United States until he left Nepal three years ago bound for Lake Charles to begin his freshman year of college at McNeese.

“When I first got here, it was very hard to be away from my family, but they are happy for me to be able to further my education by attending McNeese,” Kandel said. “There are many Nepalese students here. We stick together and support each other. We all get apartments in the same area; we split the bills and groceries; and we decide who is going to cook, do the dishes, and even the laundry. We do everything together as a family because that’s what we are now.”

Kandel said one of the things that really appealed to him when he first got to Southwest Louisiana was the weather. “The climate is very nice and it reminds me a lot of the area where I come from in Nepal,” he said. “I like that it’s easy to find spices here to make dishes that I enjoy from home and that there are also restaurants nearby that serve the kinds of food that I’m used to. But I also like the foods here, especially crawfish. My friends and I buy a lot of crawfish, and we eat it as often as we can.”

The affordability factor as well as the solid reputation of its engineering program attracted Kandel to McNeese. “I was able to get some scholarships for engineering because I had really good grades,” he said. “I really enjoy that people are so friendly here, our faculty does everything it can to help us, and there are so many things to get involved in. I used to do a lot of walking when I first moved here, but I have a car now and I like going on long road trips. I’ve now been to about 20 states and have gone on some nice vacations in the summer. On one of them we drove from here to Michigan and then went to New York and Washington, D.C., and then drove back to Louisiana.”

After graduation, Kandel said he may go to graduate school but wants to stay involved with the engineering field and hopes to open his own business someday.

Omar Zayed, a freshman majoring in computer science, is the only student from Egypt attending McNeese. He credits his fraternity brothers from Pi Kappa Phi with helping him become acclimated to both McNeese and Southwest Louisiana.

Immigration to Australia

“I met some of my fraternity brothers when I was going through orientation and we all just hit it off,” he said. “From that point on we have spent lots of time together, we do philanthropic projects on campus and in the community, and we also have a lot of fun. They are some of my best friends now.”

Zayed juxtaposed his previous life and his current life perfectly when on a recent trip to visit family and friends in Egypt he took a photo with his fraternity’s flag while standing in front of a pyramid. “I’m from Egypt but by bringing the flag with me when I left Lake Charles it’s like I had my fraternity brothers with me while I was away.”

Students who arrive on McNeese’s campus are here for a variety of reasons: Some are drawn to particular areas of studies, others are here because they got academic or athletic scholarships, some are drawn to the climate and way of life in Southwest Louisiana and still others are following in the footsteps of ones who came here from their countries and had positive experiences while here.

Preble Giltz Girard, director of international programs at McNeese, has been in her position since 2002 and said she enjoys watching international students interact with students from countries they are from but also with countries other than their own. “It’s amazing to watch,” she said. “For instance, I enjoy watching a student from Zimbabwe interact with a student from Nepal; or a student from Australia interact with a student from China. It’s fascinating to see the friendships and support develop through those interactions.”

Girard works to help international students with their transition to life in a new country as well as doing what she can to help them get acclimated to life on a college campus. Some of the things that her office can assist with ahead of an international students’ arrival include: the college application process, admittance requirements, paperwork for a student visa as well as immigration documents, and information on flights to the United States.

“Affordability is a major reason that many of the international students decide to attend McNeese,” Girard said. “We have exceptional programs at McNeese as well.”

Zayed echoes that and gives a lot of credit to Girard and her staff for their assistance in preparing him for McNeese and Southwest Louisiana. “I wouldn’t be here at McNeese if they hadn’t helped me so much,” he said. “Their office called me, emailed me, wrote to me, helped walk me through the entire process. I was very surprised by how people here are just so nice, friendly, and always smiling.”

Lillian Mambiri, a junior at McNeese is from Zimbabwe and she originally heard about McNeese through her brother who had been attending college in Florida but was completing an internship at Sasol while studying chemical engineering. “My brother called me and said that I really needed to look into Lake Charles and McNeese because he liked everything he was seeing,” Mambiri said. “Arriving here was my first experience with being in the United States and it has been so perfect. But I didn’t realize everything would be so big. The vehicles that people drive seem so huge. It’s simpler in my country and a lot of people walk. But a Third World country is going to be more basic in many ways.”

Mambiri hopes more than anything that she can make a difference in the world and especially in Zimbabwe. “As much as I love it here, the whole purpose of me getting an education in the United States is so that I can return to Zimbabwe and put my knowledge to good use. I want to eventually work for the energy authority in Zimbabwe or open up a new one. There’s an energy crisis there and I would like to work toward coming up with a cheaper alternative for energy. Perhaps I can work briefly for a company here after I graduate and then take all of my ideas to Zimbabwe and put them to good use and make some change.”

She said she has often gotten assistance or advice from the international office at McNeese as well as the church she attends, Our Lady of Good Counsel. “They really make us feel welcome there and one of the sisters made a gumbo at the student center at church and it reminded me of the stews we have back home so it really hit my heart and made me think of Zimbabwe.”

Girard, whose office is open year round, said “word of mouth” is powerful and when students from other countries talk about their positive experiences here it leads to other students wanting to follow their path to Southwest Louisiana and McNeese. “Really, it’s a soft diplomacy that takes place; students become our best ambassadors.” Source: americanpress

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