Students file in an out of Jill Izumikawa's office at Harper College every day. As the International Student Director, she helps more than 100 students with everything from their visas to homesickness.
This summer, she took her role to the next level and immersed herself in their world, after winning a Fulbright grant to study in South Korea for two weeks.
Izumikawa was the only administrator from a community college to receive a Fulbright grant designed for international education administrators this year. She was among eight admissions directors and ESL coordinators, including one from Princeton University, to take the two-week trip to Korea.
During their stay, they visited college campuses in Korea and met with higher education officials, while touring the country's vibrant cultural sites and sampling its food delicacies.
"I handle admissions for Korean students and their immigration papers, as well as their orientation," Izumikawa says, "but after visiting their country, it's so different now. I've seen firsthand how much they value education in their country, and how competitive it is. I just have a much greater feeling for them; I feel like I can get to know them more as individuals."
Her application was endorsed by Harper officials, who see an increasing international population on campus of those students choosing to start their American college journey at a two-year institution.
"International students at a community college is not an oxymoron," says Eric Bohman of Harper's English as a Second Language department. "In fact, international students are really needed on campuses like ours. They strengthen our culture as we strive to be more global, and we all benefit."
Nationally, community colleges have seen a 22 percent increase in international student enrollment since 1999. Harper officials say their enrollment has increased as well. Last fall 105 international students were studying at Harper on a student visa, up from 55 in 2004.
Izumikawa sees that firsthand in her busy office, as students representing 30 different countries come in an out. Of those, Korean students make up the majority, at nearly 40 percent.
"They're so motivated and enthusiastic," she says, "and there's so much cross-cultural learning that goes on."
During finals week last month, when two of her Korean students stopped by, Izumikawa surprised them with her knowledge of Korean phrases.
One of them, Sang Yoon Moon, was the first Korean student Izumikawa met when she started at Harper four years ago. Within his first year, however, he was called back to his native country to complete his military service.
Now back in the Northwest suburbs and pursuing a business major, he was pleased to find Izumikawa was still in her familiar role as International Student Coordinator.
"She still remembered me," he said. "She's awesome. She helps students in a good way and just makes us relax."
Another student, Ga Ha Kim, sought out Izumikawa's support when she needed help straightening out her visa, and even in confirming her choice to major in fashion marketing.
"She's just someone we can come to," Kim said. "I come by all the time."