by Franziska Fenger, staff writer
|“I didn’t even know that
an international center existed!” (Sandra Vajcs, 27).
Fries is a freshman, Ryczak and Hoetschel are here for one semester,
and Vajcs is pursuing an M.B.A. They are talking about Elfi Stephenson,
the director of HPU’s International Center since January
2005, the woman responsible for so many German students attending
HPU, and now an invaluable help to all HPU international students.
Stephenson first experienced U.S. higher education at the University
of Alabama, and those first eight months laid the foundation
for her career in international services. In Alabama, she experienced
the downside of the international student program.
They had no understanding for international students,” Stephenson
explained, “because they were not used to them.” She
was the only foreign student at the university, and it just didn’t
know how to deal with her. There was no understanding for foreign
cultures or ideas, no feeling for different opinions and views,” she
Her experience made her want to do it better – and she
does, according to many of HPU’s international students.
Stephenson completed her bachelor’s degree at University
of Hawai‘i at Manoa in 1997 and got a job at HPU in the
Office of International Recruitment (now the International Center).
She became fascinated by HPU’s multicultural character,
took night classes to get her M.B.A., and got involved in enrolling
European students, especially Germans.
Over the last six years, she has created an efficient network
across Germany to recruit students to HPU. From not knowing who
to talk to, and not being particularly welcomed anywhere, she
is today welcomed and well known in universities and colleges
in most big cities, such as Munich and Frankfurt. These days,
in fact, it is the universities who want her to come and give
presentations about HPU. That is when Hoetschel met Stephenson
for the first time and had his first impression of HPU.
Fries also went to one of these presentation and was immediately
impressed by it. But, Stephenson says, it is mostly the former
international students who recruit new students when they tell
their friends and other students about HPU and their semester
In his first semester at FHW Berlin, Ryczak was listening to
a presentation by students who had studied in foreign countries.
There was one HPU student. Ryczak said he could already see himself
surfing on Hawai‘i’s huge waves.
In the beginning, the students mainly came from southern Germany
because that is where Stephenson used to live. Now, they come
from all over what used to be West Germany. Stephenson has never
been to the former East Germany, so, HPU has no cooperating universities
there. Six years ago, Stephenson started out with 15 German students.
This semester there are 59 German undergraduate students, but
only about 19 of them stay here for more than one semester. These
include four graduate students.
Today, being the head of the International Center makes Stephenson
not only responsible for Germans but for all of the international
students. She wants them “to take a chance on experiencing
the different aspects of international student life on and off
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