In one of my favorite photos, I am shown in the arrival area of Los Angeles International airport (LAX) surrounded by 18 Indians who have just arrived to begin their studies at a local university. The students were all coming to study electrical engineering or computer science master’s degrees. Sixteen were on one flight and a total of 33 came on that day. Volunteer drivers with vans and trucks helped. Many students had never left their home state in India, never been on an airplane, and never not lived with their families. After a total journey of 27 hours, they were exhausted and a bit scared. I greeted each with a welcome in their language, and they immediately felt relief.
Each had filled out an online form giving me their details. What begin with the picking up of three Indian students in 2007 exponentially increased into the picking up of 175 new Indian students during a two-week period a few years ago. I drove 2,000 miles during the two weeks even though LAX is only 35 miles from my home. Most of the drives was in rush hour traffic and I made up to three round trips per day. Even though it was tiring for me, it was the beginning of close friendships and a chance to walk alongside them as they earned their master’s degrees.
During the 2016-2017 school year there were 186,267 students from India attending colleges and universities in the U.S. with student visas, trailing only China. This represents an increase of 81% in the past four years. Seventy percent of the Indians with student visas are in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and about 80% are master’s students.
When the number of international students in the U.S. began to increase rapidly after World War II, a number of “international student ministries” in the U.S. were established in order to welcome and bless students arriving from across the globe. The organization of which I am a part began when helpful older Americans with station wagons drove to the docks in Los Angeles and San Francisco and met arriving students, then drove them to their accommodations near Stanford, Cal, USC, and UCLA. For students from China, it represented the only opportunity for Americans to meet people from China during that time. Yesterday’s docks have become today’s airport arrival halls and yesterday’s station wagons have become today’s vans and SUVs but the opportunity is the same.
Now there are more than one million international college and university students in the U.S. Many from China go back to China, but it is estimated that 90 percent or more of all Indian international students stay on in the United States and became permanent residents (by getting green cards) or citizens. Today some of my closest friends are former Indian students who are working in the area where I live or in another part of my state. I am very thankful for the opportunity to continue to be an alongsider as my Indian friends progress from a fearful arrival at LAX, through hours of study, through graduation with a master’s degree, through a challenging search for a job, through a marriage, through beginning their families with the births of children. It is a wonderful privilege to explore life’s deepest questions and challenges together as alongsiders journeying through life together.
Andy will be presenting at the 2018 Rethinking Forum in Chicago.