Hanceville, AL-- Wallace State Community College in Hanceville has attracted some new international students this year. Several students from India have either transferred to Wallace State from other North Alabama universities or have already earned degrees in India but want an international degree.
Cindy Mallard, Director of Transitional Learning said she is proud that students from so far away are attracted to Wallace because of the high standard of education and because of the college's welcoming atmosphere.
"Like with any student, we want to make sure they can adapt to college and be successful," she said. "I told the international students in my math class to let me know if they needed any special accommodations, and so far they haven't lacked for anything. Their needs are being well met."
Mallard said the students have had few difficulties with following the lessons in English.
"They mostly do the math lab online," she said. "So it helps that they can read the English at their own pace if they struggle to understand my accent in class. I check in on them from time to time, and they are doing just fine."
Wallace State Admissions representative Jim Milligan was the first point of contact at the college for most of the students. He said they still come to him for help in addition to their faculty advisors.
"There have been scheduling challenges with the new Indian students this semester," said Milligan. "Some of them are from Florence or Huntsville and try to carpool, so they would ideally like to have their classes all on the same days. We try to bend over backwards to help them. We try to be understanding about their situation and see what we can do to meet their needs."
Ankit Patel, his cousin Pranav Patel and Sandip Dhorajiya transferred to Wallace after one semester in a nursing program at the University of North Alabama. The three students all hail from the Gujarat region in India, but the Patels first met Dhorajiya at UNA. Ankit Patel's uncle has lived in Cullman, running a Subway restaurant, for the past 13 years and recommended Wallace State to the students.
"My uncle told us Wallace is a really good school," said Ankit Patil. "We went and looked up the graduation rate and all the statistics for the nursing program, the crime rate and other things and thought this would be the best school for us."
The three students moved together to Hanceville last summer. They already have basic nursing degrees from India but want to earn a qualification from the United States.
"The quality of education in India is very good," said Sandip. "But it is very academic and inflexible. Here at Wallace, the instructors are enthusiastic and creative in their lessons. The technology for learning is much better. We have a lot of choices for classes and can build our own timetables. In India, classes are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and the teaching is not so interesting."
"There are many more ways to learn here," said Pranav Patel. "We can watch video recordings in lectures. The library resources are very good. We go online to webCT after class to refresh ourselves on what we learned in a lecture."
Another reason that Wallace State has attracted 15 Indian students in the past year, according to Milligan, is that senior colleges require a lot more English testing and than Wallace.
"Some other colleges require students to take a lot more English as a Second Language classes before they can start on their major classes," he said. "Those ESL classes are very expensive. Also, Indians are very focused on their education and the students who come here say they want to get started on the core subjects of their degree sooner."
Most of the Indian students already have an excellent grasp of English.
"We have been taught basic English since birth," said Ankit Patel. "But it can be tough to communicate with the accents involved. Before I came here I had never listened to American accents."
"It is very different from English as we learned it," said Pranav Patel. "But our accents are strong too. Sometimes we can understand people better than they can understand us."
Milligan said some of the students want to know about the possibility of working in the United States after graduating from Wallace. He has helped one Bermudan student, Rebecca Sousa, line up an interview and visa for a telecommunications job which will allow her to work in the US for one year past her graduation date. The optional program allows international students to remain in the country and gain work experience on a temporary basis. Sousa recently graduated from the telecommunications program with a 4.0 GPA.
"It is a constant struggle to be an international student," said Sousa. "But Jim Milligan and the other instructors and advisors at Wallace go above and beyond the call of duty to help us."
"Mr. Milligan helped set up interviews for me and helped with my visa paperwork," she said. "I haven't had much luck yet because I am still waiting on my social security card. I have been here three years on different visas. It is very hard to immigrate into this country. I miss my family and my home, but the thought of leaving here is heartbreaking."
The Patels, Dhorajiya and Sousa said they all miss their home countries but have found a warm welcome at Wallace.
"The American students say they love to hear our accents every time we speak," said Dhorajiya. "Everyone is always friendly and cooperative with us."
Pranav Patel's parents are coming from India to live in Huntsville in May. Several of his aunts and uncles live in North Alabama and Illinois. The Patels and Dhorajiya had never visited the United States before they came here for college, but say they would also like to stay here after graduation.
"There are more opportunities for us here," said Dhorajiya. "We might be able to get work visas but they are not available that much and competition for sponsored jobs is strong especially in nursing."