For the past two years, the Global Education department at Western Iowa Tech Community College (WIT) has invited nursing students from South Korea to study and live in Sioux City, Iowa. South Korea’s universities and government provide these students with scholarships that cover the costs of tuition, textbooks, and housing. Korean students shadow Sioux City hospital nurses and doctors to observe American medical practices. They also learn mainstream, “accent free” American English in a friendly environment while in Sioux City for the duration of the 16-week program.
As Korean students study in Sioux City, they contribute to the local and state economy. Sioux City is part of Iowa’s 4th congressional district, which had 3,289 students from Asia in academic year 2011/12. Asian students contributed $59 million to the local economy in 2011, in the form of tuition, fees, and living expenses like food and housing. Statewide, the number of students from Asia who attended Iowa schools in 2011/12 was 7,199, contributing $197 million to the state economy in 2011.
WIT’s young program builds on the pattern of Asian medical students studying in the US. Similar to WIT, the University of California-San Francisco and Stanford University offer two-week programsfor students from China, Japan, and Taiwan to discuss American healthcare and tour the Bay Area. Data from the International Institute of Education reveals a constant increase in the amount of Asian students in the US since the 2003/04 academic year.
This educational exchange also represents an expansion of Iowa’s engagement with Korea and with Asia more broadly. This engagement was founded on agricultural trade and continues to thrive in that sector. In June 2014, Korean food producer CJ Cheiljedang opened what it anticipated would become the world’s largest lysine plant in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Later that summer, the Iowa Corn Promotion Board sponsored three local producers to meet with US corn and corn product importers in Taiwan and Vietnam.
South Korea is the third largest source of international students in America. There was a 58% increase in the number of Korean students studying in the US from the 2000/01 academic year to the 2011/12 academic year. In 2011/12, Iowa schools enrolled 714 Korean students, who comprised 7.5% of the state’s international student population.
Kim Meihua Roy is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at Brigham Young University.