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President Jack Thomas and Her Excellency Ambassador Tebelelo Seretse (Republic of Botswana).
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President Thomas and Rick Carter visit with Embassy of China officials. From l-r, First Secretary Jin Zhang, Second Secretary Cuihang Liu, Thomas, Second Secretary Jiangyi Liu, Carter, and National Coordinator for AASCU-CCIEE CHEPD Program Sufei Li.
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Around the World in Three Days

November 27, 2012

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MACOMB, IL -- A trip around the world in three days may seem like the plot of a work of fiction, but recently -- and in spite of a destructive storm cutting a swath across the East Coast -- Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas and Rick Carter, executive director of the School of Distance Learning, International Studies and Outreach, visited nine countries, all within the D.C. area, in 72 hours.

As part of the University's internationalization efforts, Thomas and Carter met with embassy officials from South Korea, Japan, Peru, China, Ecuador, Brazil, Botswana, Thailand and Chile Oct. 31-Nov. 2. The purpose of the visits, Carter explained, was to introduce Western to these countries and to establish relationships with the various countries' educational leaders.

"Our goal is to increase the number of international students who select Western as their college of choice, as well as to enhance our study abroad, internship and academic cohort opportunities," Carter explained.

The recent visits to the D.C. offices built upon Carter's embassy visits in Spring 2012, as well as Thomas' and Carter's June 2012 10-day recruiting trip to China, which resulted in seven students enrolling at Western this fall to begin their English as a Second Language (WESL) studies. Three additional students will arrive in the Spring 2012, Carter added. When the 10 students complete WESL, they will enroll in undergraduate degree programs at Western. In addition, a faculty member from Shanghai Donghai College is current at the Macomb campus conducting research, while five WIU students are studying in China as part of the educational partnerships between WIU, Caterpillar and Chinese universities. A study abroad partnership has also been established with Shanghai International Studies University, and the inaugural trip will be offered in Summer 2013.

"We currently have approximately 340 international students at Western. Our goal is to increase the number of students to 1,000 within the next five years. One of our University's many initiatives is to further internationalize our campus, and visiting embassies and educational institutions and organizations abroad further enhances our efforts to accomplish this goal," Thomas noted. "I was so pleased to visit with ambassadors, government officials and education leaders from so many different countries. They were impressed with what Western has to offer their students, and we were in turn impressed with the study abroad opportunities and exchange programs their colleges and universities can provide our students, faculty and staff."

The latest round of embassy visits stemmed from last year's American Association of State Colleges and University's in-depth review of the University's international activities. AASCU Director of International Education Arlene Jackson recommended embassy visits, specifically targeting such countries such as Thailand and Botswana, which Carter visited in the spring. The relationship with Botswana began in March 2011 when Carter traveled to the country for an educational mission. A WIU student is planning to study abroad at the University of Botswana in Spring 2013.

"We have established solid relationships with the ambassador of Botswana and with the minister of education for the Royal Thai embassy. Her Excellency Tebelelo Sertese is most interested in visiting our campus, while Minister Wachira Tirakornvisesphukdi of the Royal Thai embassy is interested in the possibility of exchange programs for students from his country," Carter explained.

While a few of the embassy visits were follow-ups from the Spring 2012 trip, many of the visits, such as Brazil, were initiated due to new internationalization programs in those respective countries. At this time, only one student at WIU is from Brazil, but through the country's new Science Without Borders program, which has a goal of sending 100,000 students to the U.S. to attend college, Western hopes enroll a fraction of those students. WIU is a partner university with the program, which began this fall. Carter will return to Washington in January to follow up with those countries seeking U.S. students interested in studying abroad and to meet with the Saudi Arabian embassy.

"We're incredibly excited about the possibilities on the horizon for expanding Western's reach far beyond the borders of this state, and this nation," Carter added.

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Office of University Relations