Welcome, Stranger

U.S. colleges this month turn to a duty that has grown to critical national importance: educating students from new and developing nations, who passionately seek U.S. knowledge. It is a task full of promise. "Students want to come to the U.S.," says Philip H. Coombs, the State Department's Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs. "This is an asset we should be pretty thankful for. We couldn't buy it."

Last year U.S. colleges enrolled 53,107 foreign students, up 46% since 1956. Included were 19,222 Asians, a 12% rise in one year, and 2,831 Africans, a 44% rise in one year. Last June U.S. colleges produced 20,000 foreign alumni, nearly twice as many as the graduates of all Ivy League colleges; 7.4% of Harvard students were foreigners. This year U.S. colleges will probably enroll at least 57,000. By one estimate, the U.S. in five years may have 200,000 foreign students.

Foreign students are still only 1.3% of U.S. college enrollment (against 12% in British universities, 30% in Austria); yet the record far exceeds Russia's. The 39,-500 students attracted to the U.S. from underdeveloped areas last year compared with 3,600 in all the Communist-bloc countries. Despite the lure of Moscow's Patrice Lumumba (formerly Friendship) University, the Russians hooked a mere 441 Africans, 186 of them from Guinea. The Russians' total Latin American catch: 200 students, half from Cuba. In the Middle East, they recruited 664 students, mostly Iraqis. "Many Soviet scholarships are going begging in Africa and the Middle East," says Coombs. 

Making Friends. The U.S. Government itself is confined to a surprisingly small share of student exchange. Last year it provided only partial sponsorship for only about 5,000 foreign students. The rest are left to the kind of private effort that Coombs calls "the people's branch of foreign relations." He means that making U.S. friends out of foreign students is almost entirely a challenge to individual Americans, from the college president who selects sanely and sets up solid orientation to the family that feeds and houses foreign students with courtesy and discretion. 

Unhappily for people dealing with foreign students, there is no stock model; Congolese differ from Kenyans as much as Belgians from Britons. But there is at least a statistical average. The foreign student in 1961 is probably a male undergraduate studying engineering (with social sciences favored among Africans). He is far poorer than his often rich predecessors, and he is culturally more remote from U.S. life. He needs more financial help, more guidance, and more understanding than ever. 

One of his basic psychological problems is an almost invariable loss of self-esteem after arrival; he feels uprooted and hence resentful. He is shocked at the meagerness of his money; U.S. scholarships do not usually cover living expenses or summer vacations as do Europe's. He finds astonishingly diversified colleges with unpredictable standards. He finds rude waiters, Jimmy Hoffa, demanding children, and kind old ladies who ask Africans if they live in trees. He rarely finds anyone who knows the location of Mali, Gabon or Dahomey, or even of their existence. 

Uhuru! The more backward his country, the more elite the foreign student—and the greater his pique that no one recognizes it. "When you're dealing with an African student," says Coombs, "you may be dealing with a fellow who will be prime minister in five years." Yet if his skin is colored, the future prime minister is certain to encounter discrimination, not only in the South's segregated colleges but also in Northern restaurants, barbershops, and off-campus housing. 

None of this weighs heavily against the promise of power and affluence that a degree guarantees. Education is synonymous with Uhuru! (Freedom). Kenyans deluge the U.S. with thousands of scholarship applications, some of them so misinformed that mature men have applied to a girls' boarding school. Says one British diplomat: "These people are going to get across the Atlantic by hook or by crook, and they are going to survive. They can't face their villages unless they return in triumph." 

Until now, African students have mostly got to the U.S. on their own and with enough disorganization to damage their studies. Kenya's passion, for example, led to the pell-mell "African Airlift" originated by Politician Tom Mboya that got so much publicity in the U.S. presidential campaign when the Kennedy Foundation beat the Eisenhower State Department to the punch with $100,000 air fare. (Coombs used State's $100,000 last spring to bail out the same 289 Africans flown in by the Kennedy Foundation; having arrived with sparse shillings and small scholarships, they were in dire straits.) A typical example was the Kenyan with a $200 scholarship to a Midwestern university who learned that he also owed $ 1,000 in fees, not to mention the support of his six children. Applying the "selfhelp" theory, which Tom Mboya favors, some students frantically begged for money everywhere. "Please help me," one wrote to the British embassy, "because I'm beginning to smell." 

Deodorants & Dishes. In tidy contrast is a new program, developed by Harvard's Dean of Admissions David D. Henry, which this year will bring 250 students, mostly from West Africa, to some 150 U.S. campuses. Coordinated by the African-American Institute, the "Henry Program" includes a rigorous selection system, transportation, four-year scholarships and all living expenses (paid by the International Cooperation Administration). A key feature is solid orientation. Many of the students recently spent eight days on a transatlantic steamer, endlessly discussing everything from segregation to deodorants and the news (to Africans) that U.S. men sometimes have to wash dishes; one androcratic African man even sat down at a table next to a woman for the first time in his life. At Pennsylvania, Lincoln and Atlanta universities, the newcomers soberly studied everything from dating to telephone terminology, even took model exams to get the feel of U.S. classrooms. 

Secretary Coombs thinks that there is room for both Henry's and Mboya's methods. Coordinating the two approaches through the Institute of International Education, he has put another $100,000 into a better screening and scholarship system in East Africa. But foreign-student aid is not fully organized and there is obvious need for a really extensive foreign-students admission system with State Department help all over the world. This is one of Coombs's top priorities should Congress approve a pending revision of the is-year-old Fulbright Act that would unify and expand all U.S. exchange programs into what Senator Fulbright calls "a positive instrument of foreign policy." 

Amicable Alumni. Organization and funds will solve most of the quirks in student exchange, notably the money worries that help embitter visitors. But these problems do not seem to have cost the U.S. much prestige, to judge from the students who finish their schooling and go home. What they say, in fact, reflects singular credit on U.S. education. 

Argentines admire "college spirit" and practical lab work in U.S. schools; their own universities have no campus life and few professors who answer questions. Middle Easterners thirst for the technical training that their own classical universities lack, and praise the pragmatic way of American life because it "refuses to accept the status quo." 

Of the 140 known U.S. alumni in Ghana, for example, the only West baiter is Lincoln University Alumnus ('39) President Kwame Nkrumah—although he may outweigh the others. More typical are such friendly U.S. alumni as India's Under Secretary for External Affairs, the director of the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission, Colombia's Minister of Mines, and Venezuela's Minister of Finance. What seems significant is the Argentine pattern of students who leave for the U.S. as rabid anti-Yankees, return emphatically pro-U.S. 

"Everything I've done so far I owe to my American schooling," says the head of a major Turkish advertising agency who went to the University of Wisconsin. The story is familiar to Mandayam A. Sreedhar, 35, one of India's most brilliant engineers. What he learned at the universities of Syracuse and Pennsylvania ('53) was warm belief in "the basic American view that two fellows can start a business in a garage and build it into a multimillion-dollar concern. I have never since found it difficult to understand an American."