Walking across the University of Central Oklahoma, it’s not uncommon to hear a number of languages spoken as students traverse the Edmond, Oklahoma-based campus. Home to students from a wide range of destinations, UCO has become a premier draw for international students seeking an affordable and well regarded education. One of the first stops for many of these students is the UCO International House, a place focused on facilitating global engagement between students, professors and staff from the U.S. and abroad.

The OKGIT spoke with the UCO International House’s Jared Scism, international activities specialist, about his organization’s mission inside the wider UCO community.

What is the purpose of the UCO International House? Practically speaking, why is it important for an Oklahoma university to have these international connections?

 “The UCO International House facilitates global engagement and intercultural proficiencies by bringing UCO’s students, faculty, staff together with the Edmond and greater Oklahoma City community. Having these international connections at UCO provides UCO and the Oklahoma City metropolitan community with an unmatched intercultural environment as well as showcasing UCO as a center for globalism.”

What are some of the activities and services that UCO International House provides to students? Is it only for those students who are from abroad, or are the American students welcome too?High Tea

“Whether it is to celebrate a holiday from their home country or to promote their culture, at least one or two country associations from UCO’s International Student Council host a cultural activity each month. The International House can also be reserved by students, domestic or international, to host their own events, such as student association meetings, fundraising events and personal gatherings.

“Every Friday from 1-4 p.m., the International House staff conducts a British high tea ceremony. This cultural experience allows guests to learn about and taste tea from high mountain areas of different parts of Asia, as well as providing them the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with people from around the world.

“The International House also provides accommodations for international students in emergency situations as well as visiting professors and delegates from all over the world.

“Although the main purpose of the International House is to facilitate global engagement, it is open to the entire UCO community as well as members of the Edmond and Oklahoma City metro.”

Why has UCO, a university in the middle of the country and hours away from the nearest international border, become home to so many students from abroad?

“There are several reasons for UCO becoming home to international students, one of which is the International House. International students also appreciate the affordability, hospitality, small class sizes, the interaction they have with their professors and UCO’s intercultural programs. There is also a lot of intensive recruitment and retention taking place at UCO.”

How often do students that are affiliated with the International House stay in Oklahoma after graduation? Are there any “success stories” that come to mind of former participants who are now succeeding in OK or the nearby region?

“The story below is a success story about the former manager of the International House, Nela Mrchkovska:

“I am currently an occupational injury examiner at Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. Risk Management Department. UCO in general helped me to become the person I am and to have the passions and aspirations I now pursue. The welcoming environment, the quality of education and the evident diversity on campus helps every student, and international student in particular, to feel welcomed and motivated to learn and grow. The UCO International House was an especially important involvement of mine during my college years. I believe that the UCO International House’s vision embodies all of the characteristics that I cherish about UCO, and I believe that when I write this, I speak on behalf of the majority of students who have had a chance to be guests of the International House. Being a manager of the International House, interacting with such a diverse community and being a part of something so unique, definitely gave me the confidence I needed to pursue what I sometimes would forget was entrenched in me, and that is the desire to help create equal opportunities for all of the children and young people by expanding the borders of opportunities for all.   

“I will be forever grateful for the opportunities I was given here in Oklahoma. Because of that, my plan is to continue grow in this state and hopefully with that, give back and contribute to the well being of it.”

What is the biggest challenge that you and your staff face in stemming from your experience working at the UCO International House?

“The biggest challenge the International House currently faces is lack of funding. While we are very pleased about the success the International House has had thus far, limited funding prevents us from fulfilling some of the visions we have to bring the House to its full potential. We hope to see the International House continue to grow and carry on as a “rising showpiece” of the University of Central Oklahoma.”