Towson University is creating a name for itself in Asia by attracting Korean and Japanese students to its fast-growing summer language and culture program.
This year, about 92 foreign students are coming to Towson for a month as part of the school's Summer in Maryland program. Almost all are from Japan and Korea.
The program is aimed at international students visiting the United States for the first time. It gives them a chance to work on their English language skills and understanding of American culture.
Of the 29 university and high school students in the first of the program's four-week sessions this summer, 28 are from Korea. Their English skills are rudimentary.
During their month at Towson University, the students study English, take field trips to Philadelphia, New York and Washington, stay for a weekend with an American family and practice with conversation partners.
"It is an impressing and cool experience that will help me develop my human network," says Che Sang Won, a sophomore in International Studies at Pusan National University in Korea and the only male in the program.
Che said he was disappointed that he is not meeting more non-Koreans so that he can improve his English. "It was my expectation to meet people from other countries in the world," he says.
Begun at Towson University in 1993 to fulfill foreign students' desire for short-term study programs in the English language and American culture, the Towson program has attracted more than 450 students, most from Asia and Puerto Rico.
Mary Hilton, the program's director, says the program was unusual at first. But such programs have become increasingly common, with many colleges using them to recruit foreign students, says Marlene Johnson, executive director and chief executive officer of NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
Towson, where 850 foreign students from 90 countries are among the 16,000 students, is one of many schools Maryland tapping the growing market for international students.
According to NAFSA, the number of foreign students at the state's colleges has grown from 4,849 in 1989 to 11,941 last year.
Summer in Maryland participants take an English placement test to assess their proficiency.
"Our goal is to give them the confidence to know that they can speak some English in an informal setting and maybe they can interact with tourists when they go back to their home countries," says Lynda Mermell, associate director of the English Language Center at Towson.
Johnson says foreign students participating in such programs plan to take jobs where a command of English is critical and are willing to pay for the opportunity. The program costs $2,450 per session, excluding airfare to and from the United States.
Hilton attends overseas fairs to market the program and competes for the attention of foreign students with some of the top schools in the country. "Our main publicity is the university Web site," Hilton says.
Johnson says, "It is very difficult for individual institutions other than the first-tier Ivy-League schools to spend the kind of money that it would take for them to become known abroad."
The only non-Korean in the current Summer in Maryland session, Gabriela Farkas, 18, a high school senior from Argentina, heard about Towson from the mother of another Argentinian student. Gabriela's found the Baltimore area "big and beautiful. The city here is like `wow' because where I come from in Argentina is a really small town."
Che plans to tell his Korean friends about Summer in Maryland and encourage them to attend. "I am excited about everything," he says, "especially because I am the only boy in the program."