If you think that Pomona College is relatively
unknown in the United States, imagine the blank stares I get when I tell my Nepalese
friends and relatives where I attend college. Over winter break, as a volunteer for the Take Pomona Home (TPH) program, I visited five high schools in Kathmandu to talk about Pomona and the liberal
arts. I began the presentations with four simple questions: “How
many of you have heard of or know about Harvard University? What about Yale? Princeton?” Each
time, all of the students, parents, and teachers raised their hands. When I asked them about Pomona, nobody moved.
So, why don’t international
students know about highly ranked liberal arts colleges like Pomona?
The only U.S. colleges my friends
and I heard about growing up were the Ivy League schools. All of us determined that if we eventually
studied abroad for college, it would be at one of the Ivies or another well-known
university like Stanford University. For me, this obsession stemmed from familial, cultural, and
social roots. When U.S.
universities were brought up in conversation, it was usually by family friends gloating over their children’s acceptances, or by relatives who dreamed that one day their own children would attend these universities.
Internationally, the concept of a liberal arts
college or education is relatively unfamiliar and thus often misunderstood. Many international students and their parents believe that there is a vast difference between a college and a university. When they hear the word
“college,” they tend to imagine a two-year program focusing on a specialized trade or vocational degree. In some countries, such as France, where “collège” refers to middle school, the
word “university” genuinely carries more legitimacy and value.
But, as those of us studying in the United States know, “college” and “university” mean pretty much the same thing here. Although
this may be simple for us to recognize, many international parents, unaware of the distinction, may feel slightly uncomfortable about spending copious amounts of money to send their
children to fairly unknown U.S. liberal arts “colleges.” Additionally, in many countries, especially those in
Asia, students are forced onto narrow pre-professional tracks early in their education, so many international students—and
parents—may not see the value of broad-based learning, a loose curriculum,
small classes, or close professor-student interactions.
So, how should Pomona internationalize?
Over the past few years, Pomona has placed
an increasing level of importance on international recruitment, especially in South and Southeast Asia. Why? To put it simply, Pomona wants the best and brightest students from all
over the world. This is why the
admissions office is willing to spend thousands of dollars, whether on
recruitment trips abroad or generous financial aid packages, to attract
talented international students.
International students bring with
them different perspectives, experiences, values, religions, and approaches to
life, all of which enrich the atmosphere of the campus, both in and out of the
classroom. With this diversity, and the diversity that stems from the wonderful range of domestic students, Pomona
can truly begin to call itself a miniature global village. But, as with all things in life,
we should be asking: How can we improve?
For one, the admissions
office could expand the TPH program and persuade more international students to return home and talk about their experiences at
my admittedly very limited experience, I have noticed that prospective international
students tend to be relatively more open and inquisitive with current students who are
around their age and have undergone similar experiences.
TPH could expand through an increased budget, which would
improve the program’s long-term stability and sense of legitimacy. Admissions officers could partner with
on-campus organizations, such as I-Place or the International Student Mentor Program, to spread the word. Besides that, Pomona could form new partnerships with international educational organizations and schools in different countries.
However, you don’t need to be an international student to help the college
internationalize. With approval from the
admissions office, domestic students can hold information sessions at local high schools and organizations during their global
travels, study abroad programs, and international internships. Furthermore, through
the Alumni Admissions Volunteer Program, past students, both domestic and
international, can help expand the college’s worldwide reach by conducting
interviews or representing Pomona at college fairs.
I participated in the
TPH program because it was a small way to give back to the
college that has already done so much for me. Representing Pomona has been an enjoyable and fulfilling
experience, especially when I consider that my voice may be the only one that
some of these students hear. This
summer vacation, I will continue working with TPH by conducting information sessions at the U.S. Education Foundation in Kathmandu. I sincerely
hope that other domestic and international students—past, present, and future—decide to become ambassadors for their
college as well.
Sameer Rana PO ’17 is from Kathmandu, Nepal. He is an avid member of Pomona College Model United Nations and Pomona Ventures.