As she sat inside an airplane on the first leg of her 30-hour journey from Malaysia to Wyoming, Ayuni Ina Mohamaad still couldn’t shake the question from her head.
“I had been asking myself, ‘Should I go, because nobody really knows where it is?’” she recalls with a nervous smile.
Though Mohamaad had the support of her parents, the young student’s guidance counselor had tried to change her mind, encouraging her to look instead at schools in California, Colorado, Florida and Texas, among other places. And the immigration officer at the airport didn’t ease her mind by asking if Wyoming was in, of all places, China.
But as her home country in southeast Asia faded into the distance, the plane on its way first to Dubai, then Seattle and finally Denver, Mohamaad could only hope she had made the right choice.
Mohamaad’s story is commonplace for the hundreds of international students who annually make the decision to leave a place of comfort, whether Canada or India or elsewhere, to attend the only university in the least populated of the 50 United States.
“I think only a few people I knew had heard of Wyoming,” says Athos Nathanail, a freshman petroleum engineering major from Athens, Greece. “Everybody else was like, ‘Where in the heck is this?’”
Adil Bentahar, a graduate student from the northern African country of Morocco, faced similar questions. “I had many people ask me, ‘Why Laramie?’” he says.
He had an answer: Why not?
With more than 750 international students and 100 scholars from 90 countries, the University of Wyoming is a melting pot of culture and language that offers various programs and services through its International Students and Scholars office designed to meet the needs of young people who ignore the skeptics and trust their instincts.
This fall, UW welcomed 225 new freshman, transfer, exchange and graduate students from abroad, including Bentahar, who is pursuing his Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction with hopes of returning to his home country to become a university professor.
“Every college is part of a community where we can all learn to become tolerant and accepting of different languages, ethnicities and religions. That’s not an option anymore. It’s necessary because, otherwise, we don’t fit in a mixed world,” says Bentahar, who transferred to UW after earning his master’s degree at Boise State University in Idaho, where he held positions as president of the International Students Association and vice president of the Teacher Education Association. “I think every person, no matter where they are from, has to understand the world around them and uncover prejudice and stereotypes. We all have stereotypes and stereotypes are dangerous.
“I don’t think there are many better places than a college campus to practice global citizenship, learn how to be appreciative of differences and contribute to celebrating diversity.”
Mohamaad’s counselor had stereotyped Wyoming—“The first thing she said was, ‘No one cares about that part of the U.S.’”—yet the junior majoring in geology and minoring in business wasn’t deterred. She has already contacted her counselor to relay her positive impressions and to encourage her to consider UW for other students in her home country.
“I love it here,” says Mohamaad, citing the friendly and helpful people, light traffic and convenience of her rental house to campus. “It’s so much better than even I expected.”
Nathanail is happy to be here, too. His best advice to prospective international students is simple: Leave your worries at home.
“I like everything here,” he says as a wide smile flashes across his face. “I have nothing to complain about.”