Outside the twin cities of Urbana and Champaign, miles of corn and soybean fields spread as far as the eye can see.The university’s nickname in China, I’m told, translates roughly as “village of corn.” That's not an idle fact. Nationally, the number of Chinese students in the U. has risen fivefold since 2000 – driven by a big increase in the number of Chinese students going overseas for their undergraduate degrees – but even against that backdrop of growth the expansion of the Chinese student population at Illinois’s public flagship university has been remarkable: a university that enrolled just 37 undergraduates from the People’s Republic in 2000 enrolls 2,898 today.
Even at the graduate level, where there was a larger base to begin with, UIUC’s Chinese student enrollment has more than tripled, from 649 in 2000 to 1,973 this fall.
The 4,898 Chinese students make up the largest group of international students on Illinois’s campus, followed distantly by students from South Korea (1,268 this fall) and India (1,167). What happens when a classic American university in the heartland is better known in Beijing than in Boston, in Tianjin than in Tucson?
Some effects are easy to quantify: increased demand from international students who have needs that differ from those of their American peers at the writing center, the career services center, the counseling center, etc.
-- It would be hard to find a more iconic American campus than that of the University of Illinois's main campus here.
On the unseasonably warm late October weekend when the homecoming football game is played, the trees have changed to their fall colors and the central quad is alive.
Students wearing orange Illinois gear crisscross it.
Three young women who do not lack for pep pose for pictures, their arms arched into the shape of an I, an L, another L.
One of those tightrope-like slacklines that have become ubiquitous on college campuses is strung between two trees.
Couples snooze, families walk dogs, a child rides piggyback.