One international student to another

CSU has undergone many renovations throughout the years, but how have their international student programs grown?

Cleveland State University, in the heart of downtown Cleveland, is one of the most diverse universities in the state. While most students commute to campus every day from Northeast Ohio, could you imagine commuting all the way from another country?

According to a Diversity Report and Action Plan from 2019, only 8% of the student population is international students. The report shares that “more than 1,200 students from 82 countries study at CSU.”

CSU is a global cultural microcosm of a variety of languages, cultures, and religions. Knowing that CSU is constantly changing, it is quite fascinating to think back at how the ground we currently walked has changed from an international student’s perspective.

It’s 1980 and Ahmed Abumeri, my father, has just started his first year at CSU. He had previously attended Tri-C for two years, but before that, he had grown up in Lebanon. On April 13, 1975, everything changed for the citizens of Lebanon, with the start of the devastating Civil War.

As soon as my family saw the war was getting no better, they left. My dad was only 18 years old. He traveled from Jordan to Cairo, Cairo to Paris, Paris to New York, and drove the rest of the way to Ohio-or how my dad said he pronounced it, “O-Hi-Yo”.

At CSU, he majored in electrical engineering and took many of his core classes in Fenn Tower, which currently serves as freshman dorms.

Ahmed Abumeri (right) sitting outside the recreation building and Fenn Tower. Photo by Reem Abumeri

Speaking on his experience has a member of the international student program, Abumeri shared, “I stayed in it until I graduated. Yes, there were events here and there, some events where we got together. But one bad event happened.”

The event in question was a fight between two Lebanese students that resulted in a violent attack and shooting. Although occurring completely separate from any school events, he recalls getting a phone call from the university.

“It’s like they want us to feel the school support us to continue our education, but to also make sure students don’t get involved in politics or bringing the civil war to this country. It was a sad event.”

Despite that tough memory, Abumeri shared how much CSU has changed since his time as a student.

“When I went there, it’s like I haven’t been there. A lot of new buildings, a lot of new classes. Classes look different. They are more online, more computers are used. We were using the computer card, where you buy the computer card and punch every line and you wait for hours till you get the results and if you have one spelling mistake you have to go back and change it completely.”

Ahmed Abumeri using his computer punch card. Photo by Reem Abumeri

CSU provides students from other countries with many opportunities. Outside of earning an undergraduate degree or graduate degree, international students can take an Intensive English Language Program (IELP) to improve their language skills, or they can simply take some classes in the short-term when visiting, without earning a degree. 

Ramandeep Arora, an international student from Northern India, is a freshman computer engineering major. Arora left Uttar Pradesh when she was 18 years old to study in the United States. Whereas my father struggled to adjust to the language barrier in classes, Arora did not have that problem.

She shares, “Taking English classes can be hard for a lot of students who don’t speak English in their native towns. For me it was easy to adapt, because India prioritized English along with Hindi…I do believe English classes at CSU prepare us well to improve in accordance with American English to move ahead in our career in the States.”

Cleveland State University also provides many opportunities for international students due to its location. Arora shard, “I think Cleveland is a beautiful place during fall. It was my first time witnessing the Fall season and I absolutely loved it! International students at CSU have so many places to visit near the campus since the campus is located at the prime location of downtown with easy accessibility of all resources. I like the overall weather and I’m excited to witness the snow this spring!”

Recently at CSU, the university celebrated International Week with a collection of different events. In the Student Center Atrium, a variety of tables showcasing cultures from around the world and live musicians were featured. Student organizations representing many different cultures were also represented.

In a world that has become so uncertain, you can only imagine what the trip from a whole other country must have been like, in both 2021 and 1975. Although the trip can be nerve racking, my father made it clear that if he had never left he would never be in the position he is today. He ends his interview with simple advice, Abumeri shares, “You work hard, you can make it.”