Editor’s Note: Admissions_Mark has returned to the blog and just returned from a great trip abroad. Learn more about our international student recruitment efforts in this blog.
When I first step off the plane into a new country to meet future Hopkins students, I always have a rush of thoughts that usually surface in the following order: 1) Oh, it’s not as hot/cold as I thought it would be, 2) I hope the immigration line isn’t too long, 3) what’s the exchange rate/currency here, 4) I hope the materials I shipped made it to the hotel, and 5) I hope they weren’t lying when they said I didn’t need a visa to enter!
Every fall, students from all over the world pack their bags and suitcases, say goodbye to their families with hugs and tears, get on long flights that will take them to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and eventually make their way to the Homewood campus where they will be welcomed by smiling faculty and students on Move-In Day. About 10-13 percent of each class that enters is comprised of international students—that’s about 120-160 students in a class of 1,235. If you multiply that by four classes, you’ll see we have an incredible international population here on campus. In our freshman class alone, we have citizens from the following countries:
||Republic of Korea (South)
||Trinidad & Tobago
As an international admissions officer, I can tell you that these students don’t just fall into our class on their own—we really have to go out and get them. Every year, I spend between 4-6 weeks traveling outside of the United States in hopes of building out the international representation in our freshman class. Educating students in a global community is something that I think we do exceptionally well and having global perspectives in each class is so very important. I truly believe that Johns Hopkins represents knowledge for the world at large and we hope to share what we do here with peoples of all places! Part of a world-class education is having the opportunity to study with talented students who represent different ideas, points of view, and cultural perspectives; speak different languages; and eat different food than you! I travel around the world speaking about Hopkins and the application process for international students so that when students get to campus, their roommates can be from Jordan, Costa Rica, or France—just to name a few.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (Arabic: مسجد الشيخ زايد) in Abu Dhabi is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates and the eighth largest mosque in the world. It is named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder and the first President of the United Arab Emirates, who is also buried next to the mosque (outer left side).
At this point in my career, I have traveled to over 50 countries on six continents and, while some of my friends and colleagues refer to me as a modern-day jetsetter, I tend to view myself more as a citizen of the world with a fat passport and high tolerance for foreign food! And, while I can only speak two languages fluently (English and French), I can ask for taxis and bathrooms in many languages—skills which have served me well in my travels. I can navigate airport terminals in my sleep (read: time changes are hard), speak in airport codes when talking about cities (read: people may not understand my English or French) and memorize exchange rates and currencies (read: don’t change your money at the airport, as it’s usually too expensive). And how did I get into international admissions, you ask? My mother was born in Kenya, my father in Canada, and my sister in Germany, so I guess it was in my blood all along. It was just up to me to find my own path and love for what I do.
The travel is fairly challenging in different parts of the world and because of traffic and other issues, my days often start around 5 a.m. and last until 10 p.m. or later. I remember being stuck in a traffic jam in Mumbai for nearly four hours trying to get back to my hotel. I’ve had to reroute a taxi because a bridge washed out in the rain while trying to get to a school visit in Dehradun, India. I also remember rescheduling flights around an erupting Icelandic volcano. My taxi almost tipped over in Costa Rica (!!) and I missed a flight out of Port of Spain (Trinidad and Tobago) after they closed the highway randomly for construction. I have had my battles with turbulent flights, wind shear and smelly, crowded airplanes (I take around 50 a year nowadays). I often find that taxis give up on me as well because the places I go to (i.e., schools) are not common places that taxis go. If you’re not going to a tourist destination, hotel, or a mall, they often have no idea where it is. I can go on and on about travel stories but needless to say, the recruitment travel I do is not always glamorous—but it is rewarding and it works (most of the time)!
Burj Khalifa Fountain
That said, I can say I have been fortunate enough to go to the tallest building of the world three times (Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, then Taipei 101 in Taiwan and then Burj Khalifa in Dubai), I have eaten Teriyaki Crickets in Thailand (which were not bad), seen the Prince of Monaco in person (we waved from a distance), been to both Sultanates (Oman and Brunei), went cycling in Japan, snorkeled in Cartagena off the Northern coast of Colombia, and went water-skiing in Kenya. I do my best to stay in shape and good health when traveling and make sure I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables in order to keep my energy up. That said, you can’t always be 100% healthy when traveling. I’ve had bouts of serious illness when traveling in Taiwan and India and it’s not fun but the show must go on!
Additionally, I only travel with carry-on baggage which surprises most people. I can pack a full week of my life into a small rolling bag and a backpack. I have had so many issues in my travels with checking baggage that I just don’t do it anymore unless I absolutely have to. I get through airports quite quickly on average which I like mainly because airports can be unsafe places to spend more time than you need to and transient places are not usually fun to hang around. While usually quite architecturally stunning, I take a quick glance and perhaps a photo and then keep walking.
One of the more challenging parts of my job is the knowledge base one must acquire when working with students from different educational systems. Because many countries work in different systems, it requires a significant amount of studying, research, and experience to speak in detail about what qualifications students need from certain countries. I often am asked about certain requirements from certain systems or English proficiency examinations which students must take. What’s a good enough score on the German Abitur? The French Baccalaureate? British A-Levels? Indian Standard-10? Caribbean Examinations Council CAPE exams? When you leap outside of the US educational system, keeping on top of the changes in global educational systems requires a lot of work and time. I hope to provide the most up-to-date information to students and parents when they ask me about being admitted to Hopkins!
Most recently, I just returned from adventures in the Middle East and let me tell you how nervous people were about my travel over there. I had a two-week trip planned to five countries initially—Bahrain, UAE, Oman, Lebanon, and Jordan. Unfortunately, the decision was made that Bahrain would be off of my recruitment schedule for this year due to political unrest but the other four countries were a go.
Beirut, Lebanon in the morning. The city is actively rebuilding after the Lebanese Civil War which ended in 1990.
After a 14-hour flight from Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), I landed in Dubai (DXB) where I would stay for a few days. I conducted some recruitment events in other parts of the UAE, including Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.
After seeing some great students in the UAE, I then traveled to Muscat (MCT) which is in the Sultanate of Oman, where I would spend three days. What a wonderful country and what great students and not to mention the weather was incredible. A quick trip to Jordan was next and when I got off the plane in Amman (AMM) I was surprised at how mild the temperature was and it made me happy that I had packed an extra sweater despite everyone telling me that it was going to be too hot for one. If you know Amman, you know the city is built around circles and I was staying near the fifth circle—taxis will know your circle, not much else. Security is often quite tight in parts of the Middle East as you can imagine so often at an airport, hotel, taxi, and school, you’ll have your bag searched or put through an X-ray machine and you’ll have to follow quickly through the metal detector… I’ve learned which belts to wear on travel days and which shoes to wear too—it’s a hazard of the trade but it makes my life so much easier when it comes to traveling hassle free.
King’s Academy (Jordan)
My days in Jordan were great but what I was really excited for was my trip to Beirut (BEY), Lebanon. Beirut is still in a recovery, as a Civil War ended in 1990, and I have to say it is one of the most interesting, frightening, fascinating, and inspiring cities I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The city is overflowing with history. It is a place that offers a compelling story and an in-your-face understanding of contemporary international politics. My visits there were wonderful and I was pleased that not only did I meet prospective students, I was able to meet admitted students as well who sought me out during my time at their schools. Here, my French was quite useful due to the previous influence of the French and, while I don’t speak Arabic, I was able to speak English and French to all the students.
Diet Coke, in Arabic
During my two weeks in the Middle East, I was able to meet over 400 students who expressed interest in learning more about Johns Hopkins.
What’s next? I’m heading off to London and Paris in early May (after the Royal Wedding, strategically) to conduct some information sessions and school visits. If you are planning to be in the London or Paris area in early May and would like to attend an open information session, please click below to register:
I look forward to seeing everyone during my travels or when you and your family pack your bags and make your way to our campus here in Baltimore. I highly recommend only using a carry-on.
Until next time—safe travels!