Montana State University students participate in events like Bozeman's annual International Street Food Bazaar, allowing the growing international student population to share culture with local residents. Image: Adib Roy, Montana State University.

University Exchange Programs Attract International Students to Montana

Japan China

Two exchange programs coordinated by Montana State University are connecting young international students with host families in Montana for several weeks this summer. One exchange program teaches European and Asian students about farming and ranching in the American West while living with their host families, while the other program allows Japanese students to study English and participate in typical American summer activities with their host families. These and other exchange programs are increasing diversity and cross-cultural learning in Bozeman, Montana, where Montana State University (MSU) is located.

The number of international students in Montana increased by 8.1% in the 2013-14 academic year compared to the previous year, and Asian countries accounted for five of the top 10 places of origin for international students. At MSU in particular, the number of enrolled international students has more than doubled since 2000, and six of the top ten sources of its international students are located in Asia. MSU is taking action to attract and keep international students with increased marketing, outreach, and retention programs. The university also offers degrees in business, engineering, and microbiology, three fields that are extremely popular with incoming international students.

Other cities in Montana are seeing international students coming in greater numbers as well. Organizations like the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center, which is located at the University of Montana (UM) in Missoula, also help coordinate exchanges between Asia and the United States, among other activities. UM recently enrolled 832 international students, approximately double the number that had enrolled five years prior. As the number of students in China seeking higher education exceeds the ability of what that country’s educational infrastructure can accommodate, many of these students are seeking education in places like Montana.

UM also has an English language preparatory program in addition to its normal curriculum to encourage more international students to enroll. This year, UM and the Missoula County Public Schools signed a memorandum of understanding with their partner education board in Kumamoto, Japan to encourage more student exchanges and professional development. Montana and the prefecture of Kumamoto, Japan have a sister-state relationship, which enables them to sign agreements like the memorandum and paves the way for future cooperation. The sister-state relationship, which was formalized in Helena, Montana in 1982, has already allowed for the establishment of bilateral representative offices, student exchange programs, and support for Montana forest fire relief, among others.

Patricia Weng is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a graduate student of the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego.