Like a lot of M State students, Oshane West is happy-go-lucky, outgoing and athletic. Unlike most M State students, West hails from Jamaica.
He's excited about his future, loves snowboarding on Detroit Mountain, and is a big fan of Minnesota.
"I love American culture and I love this area-horseback riding, hunting, American Indians-it's an amazing place," he says.
The four M State campuses in Detroit Lakes, Wadena, Fergus Falls and Moorhead are seeing a sort of mini-boom in international students. There were just a few international M State students a few years ago, and now there are about 50, said Kyle Johnston, who directs communications and marketing for the M State campuses.
They're attracted to M State for the same reasons as other students-there's a program they like or they're looking for a less expensive way to earn credits before transferring to a four-year college to earn a bachelor's degree.
West, 25, is a member of the M State Student Senate. He got attached to Detroit Lakes when he first came over on a foreign exchange program five or six years ago as part of a summer work travel program.
"I fell in love with the area, people around here are pretty nice and friendly-coming here and getting to experience summer, fall, winter-it's amazing," he said.
Last winter he learned to snowmobile, snowboard and drive on icy roads. "I was scared at first, but I got the hang of it," he said with a laugh.
He was hosted by Subway restaurant owners Bruce and Joyce Omang. "They're amazing people, they showed me around town," and helped him get comfortable in the area, he said.
He has been back and forth between Jamaica and the United States several times in the past half-dozen years, always choosing to return to Detroit Lakes. He's from the countryside in Jamaica and prefers rural living to the big city. "It's pretty similar to home, apart from the weather," he said with a smile.
"I'm pretty self-motivated and I use that to keep on going. I always look to improve on last year. By the time I graduate, I think I'll leave an impact on this college."
West has coached a lot of youth soccer in Detroit Lakes. "Most kids in Detroit Lakes High School know me," he says. And he plans to major in mass communication and then make a career in sports broadcasting. "I like mass communications because you can still be yourself," he said.
He attended Northern Caribbean University, a 5,000-student private, liberal-arts institution with its main campus in Manchester, Jamaica, and is waiting to see how many credits transfer to M State. He plans to complete his liberal arts credits at M State and then finish his degree at a four-year university, perhaps Minnesota State University Moorhead, perhaps some other university. He is researching his options.
"M State offers what you can get at a four-year college at a much cheaper rate," he said. "I've done my research on multiple universities."
He likes that staffers at M State are friendly and know him by name, and says his M State contact person, Karen Buboltz, is always helpful. "I can get clarity from her on anything," he said.
Buboltz is the designated school official at M State Detroit Lakes for international students.
Kyle Johnston, director communications and marketing for M State, is her supervisor and holds the title of primary designated school official.
He works with Homeland Security and is tasked with tracking international students and issuing their paperwork.
"Most of our international students are transfer students from within the United States," he said, and they are usually sponsored by local people from churches or businesses. "One sponsor is sponsoring a lot of students from Vietnam," he said. They tend to come from warm-weather nations where the economy is not especially strong. "They need a high level of English proficiency and are usually pretty good students," he said.
International students go through the regular college application process and also fill out an additional packet for international students. Homeland Security does its own vetting before issuing the student a visa.
"That's a whole 'nother round of vetting," he said. "That's one thing that has gotten a lot more formalized since 9/11. There's a lot more tracking. They work very closely with the schools to make sure they're admitting the right kind of students ... It's pretty thorough, we've had a number of students denied before."
More colleges in outstate Minnesota appear to be interested in international students. A training conference held recently at M State attracted 42 designated school officials from 15 colleges-three times the number of colleges and six times the number of DSOs as a similar training conference held the year before, Johnston said.
"Every year, from what I've seen, it gets a little more strict with the enforcement, and with the workload-there are more (international) students, so they need more DSOs trained."
MSUM, NDSU and the University of Minnesota -Morris are the top three universities from which international students are transferring to M State, he said.
"They get their visas for a period of time," Johnston said, "If for some reason they drop out or fail to enroll in full time classes, they will lose their visas. Our job is to report what's going on, ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents enforce the rules."