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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 remembered.

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 abroad.

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 campus.”
 

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