International Student Success Spotlight: Marloes van Eijkelenburg

International students find their way to Western Illinois University via many different pathways. One student, Netherlands-native Marloes van Eijkelenburg, had a bit of a unique experience that led her to the Midwestern region of western Illinois. She found her way to Western via a chance meeting in 2012 (in Europe) with students and faculty in the WIU sport management program.

For the Fall issue of Western News (WIU’s quarterly alumni newspaper), Marloes’ story was featured in the College of Education and Human Services‘ section, and the piece is also featured (below) for the September installment of the ongoing “International Student Success Spotlight.”

Netherlands-native Marloes van Eijkelenburg, a graduate student the Western Illinois University sport management graduate program, wound up as Western via a chance meeting with sport management faculty and students at a conference in Portugal.

Netherlands-native Marloes van Eijkelenburg, a graduate student in the Western Illinois University sport management graduate program, wound up at Western via a chance meeting with sport management faculty and students at a conference in Portugal.

Stepping Up the Game: Sport Management Program Offers International Student Multinational Perspective

Marloes van Eijkelenburg has hopes of again working at the Olympic Games. In 2012, before she came to the United States to study, the graduate student in Western Illinois University’s sport management program (offered through the WIU Department of Kinesiology) worked as a facility manager at the London Games. Although she described her job at the 2012 Summer Olympics as “amazing,” van Eijkelenburg admitted the sheer magnitude and pressure of the experience left her a bit depleted.

“I was very tired after that, so I took a little vacation by myself and I traveled to Porto, Portugal, to attend the annual conference held by the International Association for Philosophy of Sport [IAPS] in September of that year,” she explained.

It was the 2012 holiday that served as the catalyst for van Eijkelenburg’s trek to the U.S.–and eventually led to the pursuit of her master’s degree in sport management at WIU.

A Significant Score
Prior to coming to the Midwest, van Eijkelenburg had earned her bachelor’s degree in sport management from The Hague University of Applied Sciences (Netherlands), as well as completed postgraduate work in sport economics at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. While she wasn’t necessarily looking to come to North America to study, a chance meeting with Dr. Algerian Hart, assistant professor in kinesiology and graduate coordinator for the sport management program, and a few of his grad students, who were all attending the IASP conference that year, caused her to consider (and ultimately take) the path to WIU.

“I met Dr. Hart at a networking thing at the conference. We started talking, and I told him about working at the Olympics, as well as my undergraduate work in sport management. After hearing about my background, he thought it would be beneficial for me, and for the program, if I came to Western,” she noted. “There were six students with him, and he told me not to take his word for it, but to talk to his students so I could hear about the program from their perspectives.”

According to van Eijkelenburg, it was those conversations that convinced her to apply for the program so far away from her home in Europe.

“They really convinced me. I remember thinking, ‘Oh wow! If the students are talking so highly about this program, it must be good,'” she added.

After finishing up her studies at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, van Eijkelenburg worked another year (in 2013) and began her master’s program at WIU in August 2014. Now in her second year, she said the program continues to offer her valuable educational opportunities.

“My professors are extremely approachable here, and I really enjoy that. I am also a teaching assistant, and I have a little cubicle in same office space as my professors have, so they are accessible and easy to reach out to when I have a question or concern about my studies or my classes,” she noted.

Marloes (center) and some of the friends she's met as a student in WIU's graduate sport management program.

Marloes (center) and some of the friends she’s met as a student in WIU’s graduate sport management program.

Although van Eijkelenburg, who described herself as “very competitive,” had considerable knowledge about the study of sport management from her courses in Europe, she said her classes at Western offer practical application of sport management skills and philosophies.

“In Europe, the dominating sport is European football, or soccer, as it’s called here in the U.S., but since being here, I have been introduced to many of the American sports. I think it’s amazing how sports are organized are here, and in my classes, we get to discuss what’s happening in the industry here a great deal. I remember when I first got to Western, the whole story about NFL player Ray Rice’s assault case had just come out in the media, and it was my first introduction to American football. In our classes, we discussed this story from its different perspectives, such as from the fan’s point of view or from the organization’s management’s perspective. We talked about how we may have to deal with such issues in our own jobs,” she explained.

In addition to her studies and serving as a teaching assistant, van Eijkelenburg is also active in the Sport Management Association (SMA), a student organization at WIU with the mission to “expand upon students’ professional access and to provide networking opportunities and expose to increase students’ marketability.”

“Taking part in this student organization has been significant for me. I have met many friends through SMA, and we have been able to travel to different places to experience various sports venues,” van Eijkelenburg noted. “One experience, through my involvement with the SMA, included a trip to Kansas City, where I watched my first baseball game in person. Those kinds of activities have enabled me to get to know my classmates a little bit better on a personal level, and I think the opportunity to get involved like this is one of the biggest advantages of the sport management program at WIU.”

The graduate candidate has plans to finish her degree next May and has hopes of, again, working at the Summer Olympics, slated to take place next year in Rio de Janeiro. Through her experience in European sports (in addition to her undergraduate studies and work at the Olympics, she has coached field hockey), and the experience and understanding she now has of the U.S. sports industry, she said could be interested in working for an international sports organization.

“My experiences here and in Europe have been so rich, I really would like to stay international, to serve both the European and the American markets,” she said. “There’s a really high job placement rate within the program–I think everyone who graduated last May has a job right now. But it really depends on what opportunity arises.”

International Student Success Spotlight: Qi Qi

Qi Qi - WIU International Student

Qi Qi, an international graduate student in WIU’s MBA program, said her ability to study business abroad (outside of her home country of China) is a dream come true.

Qi Qi, a master’s of business administration (MBA) program graduate candidate at Western, is currently achieving one her dreams: studying outside of her home country (China) to pursue her advanced degree in business.

Before coming to WIU, she had worked in marketing and product management in China. Since enrolling in Western’s MBA program, she has found that she is particularly interested in supply chain management, so she has chose that area of concentration her advanced business administration studies.

For the March installment of the “International Student Success Spotlight” (sponsored by Western’s Center for International Studies), Qi Qi shared how and why she chose Western to achieve her dream of studying business abroad, as well as how the services and academic resources at WIU have helped her with her success so far as an international graduate student.

Q. How did you learn about WIU and why did you decide to apply to and attend Western?

Qi Qi: Studying business abroad was my dream, due to my working experience with various enterprises after graduating from a college in Beijing, China. However, I had to consider the most efficient and effective way to realize my dream, because I came from a working-class family. I have limited savings, and the tuition and living expenses are high in developed countries. My hope was that I could leverage my limited resources to achieve the best result for my studies, and my “dream” universities would have the best cost/effect ratio.

Then I started a comprehensive search, both online and offline. I finally narrowed it down to WIU, State University of New York, Texas A&M, Cleveland State University, and Pittsburg State University. With any effort and luck, I would be accepted by each school’s MBA program candidate.

Then, I compared the programs, environment, and the procedures at each school.

Firstly, WIU has been listed as a “Best Midwestern College” and “Top Tier Midwestern University” for many consecutive years. AACSB International [“the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business”] not only accredited WIU’s MBA program, but also ranked Western’s College of Business and Technology among the top 25 percent of business schools in the world.

I was also amazed by the many unique and creative arrangements for international students, i.e. Ambassadors Program, temporary housing, Western’s English as a Second Language (WESL) Conversation Mentors program, Conversation Partners, American Culture Night, etc. WIU has become the ideal university for me. I also think Western has the best student services. I am so glad I made the correct decision and came to WIU!

Q. What do you hope to do with your master’s degree in business administration once you graduate?

Qi Qi: I plan to work as a supply chain analyst after graduation, once I get more experience in the area. I hope to become a supply chain manager.

I am very happy to have discovered my career direction here, so I can be equipped for my future.

Q. How did you adjust to your new home as a person who had never traveled to the U.S. before?

Qi Qi: When I first arrived, I was faced with new study challenges, a new living environment, new social relationships, and a totally different culture when I just came to Macomb.

First of all, the language issue impacted my performance, because I couldn’t get used to each instructor’s speed and tempo when he or she was lecturing.

Secondly, I experienced serious homesickness, because I had never been so far away from home before.

Thirdly, everything was new to me; however, I did not feel lonely and helpless at all. The friendly and responsible professors answered my questions patiently, gave me a lot of useful advice, and helped me pick up information more quickly. In addition, the international student services staff arranged a lot of activities for me to get familiar with the community, meet a lot of new friends, improve my English, and learn about the culture. The International Neighbors program, particularly, makes me feel that I have another home at Macomb. The host family has become my second home, and I feel I am the part of the community. I can’t believe I have become accustomed to my new life so quickly!

Q. What have been (or are) your favorite courses and instructors and why?

Qi Qi: My favorite course is in small business management. The course covers how to operate a small business. In this course, there are many guest speakers sharing the experiences about their businesses. Mrs. Gates, the instructor, also provides information and cases about various interesting small businesses.

Although the assignments in this course are challenging, Mrs. [Janice] Gates is one of my favorite instructors. She is very nice and helpful. She likes students to raise questions, and she replies to their email messages quickly. Even on the weekend, she still provides feedback to students’ concerns in time.

Another professor I adore is Dr. Deboeuf. I took his two courses, “Introduction to Finance” and “Financial Management.” His classes are well organized, and he helped me understand the complicated financial concepts presented.

Q. Any additional information that you would like to include?

Qi Qi: I have to mention Macomb when talking about my feeling about WIU. It provides me a welcoming, friendly, convenient, safe, hometown, and rich atmosphere to pursue my study objectives. I love Macomb!

International Student Success Spotlight: Omotola Ashafa

Western Illinois University international graduate student Omotola Ashafa’s interest in public health first began when she served in Nigeria’s National Youth Service Corps.

Omotola Ashafa at Hueco Tanks State Park in El Paso, TX

Omotola Ashafa, an international graduate student studying public health at Western Illinois University, recently traveled with the WIU Campus Students for Christ group to Hueco Tanks State Park in El Paso, TX (pictured in the background) on their way to a mission trip to Juarez, Mexico.

“I was deployed to a rural area in Southwest Nigeria. This opened my eyes to how prevention medicine could, and will, greatly benefit a rural community,” she said.

Currently a graduate student in Western’s public health M.S. program (situated in the health sciences and social work department), Omotola hopes to get a job (after she completes her master’s degree) in health program intervention or as a wellness program coordinator.

“My ultimate goal is to become a community health director and health program coordinator in rural communities in my country,” Omotola noted.

Omotola recently took time out of her busy graduate-student schedule and answered a few questions about herself, her time here at Western, and a recent mission trip she took with WIU’s Campus Students for Christ group to Juarez, Mexico.

Q. How did you learn about Western Illinois University? Why did you decide to apply to and attend Western?

Omotola: During the time I was in college for my bachelor’s degree, I knew I was going to pursue my graduate degree right after finishing my undergraduate degree. What I didn’t know then was where–until my mum brought up the idea of going to study in United States, and it kind of stuck with me. She mentioned to me that I should meet with her friend who is familiar with schools in U.S. I met with him, and he told me about WIU and two other universities. I applied to all three schools, but I was particularly taken by the swift response I got from Western. The international admission officer was very helpful and answered my questions no matter how silly I felt they were. Then I found out about the Nigerians and other international students on campus… all this just made my “pros” list for WIU even longer.

Omotola and WIU student members of Campus Students for Christ

Omotola and WIU student members of Campus Students for Christ

Q. How did you adjust to your new home as someone who had never traveled to/in the U.S. before?

Omotola: I had not been outside of my country until I came to the U.S. Even though I already speak English (because English is our official language in Nigeria), people had a difficult time understanding me because of my accent. In my head, all I wanted to do was shout at them and say, “If only you will be patient, then you will understand that we are speaking the same language.”

I must acknowledge that international student orientation was a great help with my adjusting to the new environment and meeting people. The volunteers and staff were great, and it was at this time I met another student from Nigeria, and he really helped me understand the way things work around campus and other things he knew that I was unfamiliar with. I must say that most people I met recently after I got here where very helpful and nice and this made settling in easier for me.

I did experience some culture shock, like riding in the bus and hearing curse words being used, but nothing really major, and making friends really did help me adjust.

Q. What are your favorite courses and why? Who or are your favorite instructors and why?

Omotola: My favorite courses are my emergency management classes, epidemiology and health behavior theory. Emergency management has always been fascinating to me, mostly because it involves a lot of hands-on experiences; I even took certificate courses in Nigeria. It was fun to use theories to understand human behavior in my health behavior theory class and try to develop models to alter unhealthy behavior. I am familiar with infectious disease because of where I am from, but this made understanding epidemiology a little bit easier.

WIU Campus Students for Christ preparing to help build a house on a mission trip the group took to Juarez, Mexico, in January.

WIU Campus Students for Christ preparing to help build a house on a mission trip the group took to Juarez, Mexico, in January.

Two professors I adore are Dr. Wen and Dr. Johnson. Dr. Wen because she readily offers to help in every step of the way, breaks confusing complex things to simple teachings for you to understand, and she is also full encouragement until you get it right. Dr. Johnson, because at first he makes it seem hard and forces you to push your limit, which I really like. They have been both very helpful.

Q. Tell me about the mission trip you recently took to Mexico: what organization did you travel with? Why did you want to take part in this trip? What kind of work/mission did you do while you were there?

Omotola: The Nigerian student I met during orientation week introduced me to a campus ministry at WIU called Campus Students for Christ (CSC), which is a student organization. This organization has been really good to me, and the members have been a major part of my adjustment to WIU. I currently live in the CSC house.

Omotola Ashafa in Juarez, Mexico

Omotola helping to build a house on a recent WIU Campus Students for Christ mission trip to Juarez, Mexico.

This student organization, CSC, takes a group of student to Juarez, Mexico, every year to build a house for a family who cannot afford one. I showed up to an interest meeting for the trip in 2014, because I thought will be a great opportunity and a memorable experience, but I did not go because I could not afford the trip. I also thought crossing the border could be a challenge, because I am international student.

I did not make it to the interest meeting for the 2015 trip because of a conflicting meeting, and I thought the trip was going to be at a time when I was to start work for graduate assistantship duties.

It was until I was talking to Barry Reed, the director of the Campus Ministry, and also the staff leading the group to Mexico. He told me the trip will be from Jan 3-10, and I resumed work Jan 11, so it worked out fine. He also told me that there was full funding for a student if he/she is interested. This was a donation from a family member that knows about CSC. This was very exciting news for me to get this opportunity and I did not have plans for the break anyway.

WIU Campus Students for Christ in Juarez, Mexico, January 2015

Members of WIU’s Campus Students for Christ group pose in front of the house they built on a recent trip to Juarez, Mexico.

The trip was fun, exhausting, and awesome at the same time. We visited Hueco Tanks State Park in El Paso, TX, before we crossed into Mexico. We were in Mexico for four days, and we built a house and gave some donations we had taken with us to the family. We started with a flat ground surface, and by the time we were done on the third day, there was a house standing.

We did all the work: we cleared the ground for foundation, built the walls and roof, insulated them, put them up, put in the dry wall, put in electric wire and appliances, before it actually started to come together and looked like a house. I remember looking at the house and was so proud of myself to have been a part of that. We presented the keys for the house to the family and prayed with them and we also gave them some donations. It was AWE-INSPIRING!

International Student Success Spotlight: Amin Akhtar

Amin Akhtar, WIU Alumnus

Amin Akhtar recently graduated from Western with his M.S. in computer science. While an international student at WIU, he served as a graduate assistant in Western’s Center for International Studies.

Many current and former international students at Western Illinois University may be familiar with Amin Akhtar’s friendly smile. Akhtar–who is from Iran and was, until last December, an international student himself–served as a graduate assistant in Western’s Center for International Studies while studying in Western’s School of Computer Sciences.

“In that role, I participated in six orientations for new international students. Each of them was an amazing experience. Helping other international students each semester was more than a job or a volunteer work for me,” he explained. “I would like to especially thank to Ms. Dana Vizdal [assistant director in the Center for International Studies], who gave me this chance to be a leader for the orientations.”

Akhtar finished his master’s of science degree in computer science in December. Recently, he shared with me a bit about some of his academic experiences and opportunities he had while he was a WIU student.

Q: How did you learn about Western Illinois University? Why did you decide to apply to and attend Western?

Amin: After considering different universities, I came across information about the School of Computer Sciences at Western. When I saw the profile of the professors and their fields of interest, I was sure I wanted to choose Western.

Q: What do you hope to do with your degree?

Amin: I am planning to work as a software engineer in one of the consulting companies. Finding a job in the computer science field is not that hard, especially when you have a computer science degree from WIU!!!

Q: How did you adjust to your new home as someone who had never traveled to the U.S. before?

Amin: The adjusting process from another culture to the U.S. culture was not that easy. All international students have culture shock when they come here, and I was not an exception. Making friends and not being alone was the best way for me to adjust myself within the new environment.

Q: Who was your favorite instructor and/or course and why?

Amin: My favorite professor and advisor was undoubtedly Dr. Martin Maskarinec [professor of computer science]. Dr. Maskarinec was so patient and helpful all the time, and I always used his advice. My favorite courses were my database courses, because I love working with data.

Q: Tell me about one or two of your most memorable experiences as a Western student.

Amin: The best moment of my life was when I got the news about being accepted as a teaching assistant in the School of Computer Sciences. Other memorable experiences include meeting my girlfriend at Western Illinois University and learning more about American culture.

Int’l Student Success Spotlight: Xitong “Rebecca” Chen

Xitong "Rebecca" Chen Portrait of WIU President Jack Thomas

Dr. Rick Carter, executive director of Western Illinois University’s School of Distance Learning, International Studies and Outreach, Xitong “Rebecca” Chen, WIU President Jack Thomas, and Jenny Knavel, art professor. Rebecca designed and created the portrait she is holding with Dr. Thomas. It took her 57 hours to complete.

A few years ago, two of Western Illinois University’s leaders made a huge impression on Xitong “Rebecca” Chen when she met them in her native country, China. In fact, according to Rebecca, meeting Western President Dr. Jack Thomas and Dr. Richard Carter (executive director of WIU’s School of Distance Learning, International Studies and Outreach) provided the tipping point in the process of her decision about where to go to college in the United States.

This Fall 2014 semester, Rebecca, a sophomore with a double major in art and journalism, expressed just how much the initial impression that Dr. Thomas made on her with an impression of her own. For a project assigned in one of her art/design classes (taught by WIU Art Professor Jenny Knavel), Rebecca spent 57 hours working on a portrait of Dr. Thomas (see photo below). She presented the work to the President late last week.

So, for the December (and second) installment of Western’s “International Student Success Spotlight” series, I asked Rebecca to answer a few questions about her experiences with WIU. She shared a little bit about the first time she met President Thomas and Dr. Carter, as well as a bit about some of her experiences at Western and in North America so far.

Q. How did you learn about Western Illinois University and why did you decide to apply to and attend Western?

Xitong (Rebecca): As I grew up in Shanghai, which is the largest city in China, as well as the global financial center, I learned more and more about foreign countries and had an increasing interest in studying abroad. When I had almost finished my high school studies, I heard about Western Illinois University from one of my mom’s friends. When I began the application process to apply to Western, I found that WIU has an English as second language program called the “WESL Institute” [Western English as a Second Language Institute], with a low cost. I thought it would be a good program for me to improve my English and prepare for college life in the U.S.

Although I thought Western was definitely a good choice for my college study, I was still struggling with the decision about where I should go, since I received several offers from other good universities in the U.K., Canada, Australia and in other countries.

Xitong "Rebecca" Chen and WIU President Jack Thomas in China

This photo documents the first time Xitong “Rebecca” Chen (far right) met WIU President Jack Thomas (second from left) in China.

I had this struggle until I met President Jack Thomas and Dr. Rick Carter in Shanghai when they traveled to China. After talking to them, I unhesitatingly decided WIU would be my university in the coming four years, because it had two nice leaders who cared about their students in their university with their full hearts.

Q. What do you hope to do with your degrees in journalism and art once you graduate?

Xitong (Rebecca): I want to be a missionary and work in the Middle East in the future. I joined Campus Students for Christ (CSC) at WIU, and received help from several of the American students there. Just like the help I received, I also want to offer my help to others who need it. I hope through my studies in journalism and art, I can use my writing, my words, my actions, and my artwork as a missionary.

Q. How did you adjust to your new home as a person who had never traveled to/in the U.S. before?

Xitong (Rebecca): When I first came to the U.S., I was only 17 years old. The language problem was definitely a huge struggle for me. Whenever an American talked to me, I could not understand; whenever I spoke to someone who was not Chinese, he or she could not understand either. Due to that, I tended to avoid making any more American friends. I felt my accent was ugly; I felt no American would like to talk with me. I felt deep loneliness from living in a foreign country.

Besides that, I also had a huge culture shock, because the U.S. is so much different compared with China. The types of food, the ways we do laundry, the transportation systems, and the etiquette in daily life were all something new to me that I needed to learn from the beginning. It almost seemed easier to just give up instead of overcoming all of these difficulties; however, my faith helped get me through. I also met nice teachers, who took their time to help me, at the WESL Institute, as well as friendly classmates who came from such other countries as Japan, Korea, and Saudi Arabia and who were willing to share with me information about their similar difficulties when coming to the U.S.

I also met nice Americans from Campus Students for Christ who invited me to their activities and helped me to understand American culture. These people gave me encouragement and helped boost my confidence to help me face the difficulties. I gradually solved more and more problems with their help and support.

Then, I shared my experience with other Chinese students and told them about never giving up. In 2013, I became the president of the Chinese Student Association, and I also volunteered in orientation for international students every year to share my experiences.

Q. What have been (or are) your favorite courses and why?

Xitong (Rebecca): My favorite course at WIU so far has been English 100, taught by Jacqueline Wilson-Jordan. After graduating from the WESL Institute, I took this course in my first semester of my studies at WIU. Although I learned a lot in WESL classes, I still could not fully understand the professors and my new American classmates. Professor Wilson was a nice and patient professor with a lot of teaching experience. She tried her best to understand the difficult situation of being an international student studying in a foreign country and helped me in any way she could. I enjoyed her classes with organized handouts, detailed explanations, vivid writing examples, and a friendly environment in the class. I not only learned a lot of helpful knowledge in her class, but I also experienced more Americans’ good personalities. My first semester was really the most memorable one in my college study. Later, I recommended Professor Wilson’s classes to other international students, and they all loved her teaching and gained useful tips on English writing.

Q. Tell me about one or two of your most memorable experiences yet as a student at Western.

Xitong "Rebecca" Chen with WIU Campus Students for Christ in Juarez, Mexico

Xitong “Rebecca” Chen volunteering with Campus Students for Christ in Juarez, Mexico, in 2014.

Xitong (Rebecca): In 2012, I went to Juarez, Mexico, with 18 other students from Campus Students for Christ. We went there to build a house for a Mexican family who did not have a home to stay in.

We drove three days from Macomb to Mexico. It was hard for us to sit in a vehicle for such a long time, as well as for the drivers to keep focusing on driving. We stayed in different churches on the way to Mexico, but there were not comfortable beds in the churches, so we either slept on the floor or brought “easy beds” with us.

Conditions were more uncomfortable after arriving in Mexico. We could not take showers for three days, and during those three days, we worked from 7 a.m.?5 p.m. with only one half-hour for lunch. The weather there was also harsh. It was hot like summer in daytime, but cold like winter, without sunshine, at night. On the third day of building the house, it was even snowy. When I was in China, I was always a “princess” who did not need to do any rough work (even something simple such as washing the dishes), so, of course, building a house in Mexico is not something I had ever done before!

Xitong "Rebecca" Chen and fellow WIU Campus for Christ volunteers

Xitong “Rebecca” Chen and fellow WIU Campus for Christ volunteers in Juarez, Mexico.

We cut the wood, shoveled stone and sand, mixed the concrete, finished the foundation of the house on the empty sandy, ground, all on the first day. We hammered the wood sticks together and stood the wood frames on the foundation on the second day. On the third day, we filled insulation in the wood frame, added chicken wires out of the wall, covered the wires with concrete, helped with the electricity, made the roof, installed windows and doors for the house.

I learned all these English words and how to do this work in those three days. And the pain that came from the work (and affected every corner of my body) made me swear never join this activity again! But before we left Mexico, when we gave the Mexican family the keys of the house and prayed for them and their house, that changed my idea about this. All of this work was done to help others in God’s Kingdom.

In 2013, I went to Juarez, Mexico, with CSC again to build another house for another family. And I have registered for building another house in Juarez this year, too.