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By Kelsey Asher, Integrated Content Creator at Life University
Life University (Life U) in Marietta, Georgia, northwest of Atlanta, is home to more than 2,800 undergraduate, graduate and professional students who come from across the country and the globe. But out of numerous options students have to choose from in pursuit of higher education, what leads them to Life U? To get a better understanding as to what leads students to travel great distances to attend this institution, it’s helpful to ask those who journeyed the farthest and those who work with them.
“Life University has been home to international students from more than 66 countries of the world since 1997,” says Dr. Sairagul Matikeeva-Kinney, Director of International Programs at Life U. “Most of our international students come from Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Iceland, Hong Kong, South Africa, the Netherlands and other countries.”
The Department of International Programs provides comprehensive support for international students to ensure immigration compliance, academic success and social connectedness within the campus and surrounding communities. Given that 10 percent of the current student body is classified as international, making sure these students feel included and supported is a top priority.
Every Life U student’s journey is a unique, personalized experience, but after speaking to several international students about what drew them to Life U, three major themes emerged: academic opportunities, athletic pursuits and a strong sense of community and support.
Life U is a health sciences institution most known for its College of Chiropractic, the largest single-campus College of Chiropractic in the world. Undergraduates can pursue 14 undergraduate degrees; a pre-chiropractic, degree-seeking pathway; and three graduate degrees within the College of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies (CGUS). Some degree programs are offered online through the College of Online Education.
According to records kept in the Department of International Programs, about 35 percent of current international students are enrolled in the Doctor of Chiropractic program, 25 percent in the B.S Exercise Science, 25 percent in B.B.A Business Administration and 15 percent in various other degree programs.
Tendai Rioga, a B.B.A Business Administration and B.S Computer Information Management student, came to Life U by way of South Africa as a student-athlete for Life U’s championship Men’s Rugby team, but he has experienced profound professional success in his time at the institution as well. Rioga is currently working for Lease Query, a FinTech SaaS company focused on meeting accountants’ complex needs with cloud-based accounting technology solutions. He started as a Customer Experience intern at Lease Query and has since transitioned to a System Administrator role in the last couple of months.
“Life University has a great international department. Dr. Sairagul Matikeeva-Kinney actually helped me to get a great opportunity and great employment out of school with an internship,” Rioga explains.
It’s worth noting that students who attend Life U are learning valuable skills that they can then share in their respective home countries. “By immigration regulations, F-1 academic visa students can stay after graduation in the U.S. to work for one or three years to improve their practical skills under the experience called Optional Practical Training (OPT). Most Life U international alumni use OPT to apply their knowledge into practice and improve their skills. This is especially important for the Doctor of Chiropractic students, who mostly will be pioneering in launching chiropractic professions in home countries,” says Matikeeva-Kinney. “Because of the STEM nature of most degree programs at Life U, international students benefit from OPT extensions and return to their home countries with enhanced knowledge and skills.”
Life U strives to equip students to fulfill their utmost potential. As Rioga notes, “I am learning how to be more accountable and responsible. But the resources available at Life U were also able to help me with that. Dr. Matikeeva-Kinney was a great mentor and helped me with my challenges in certain aspects. Also, my teammates and my educators were there for me.”
The Life U Running Eagles take great pride in the university’s athletic programs. Life U offers 23 intercollegiate sports, and teams have won more than 25 National Championships across those programs. It is a great place to get involved in an active lifestyle with a rich culture of athletics, nutrition and wellness.
Rugby and wrestling get a good portion of the buzz and attention in Life U’s Athletic Department; however, there are also many other major sports played at Life U with plentiful rosters and participants from all over the country and the world, such as soccer and basketball. Stan Vandierendonck hails from Brussels, Belgium, and accepted a scholarship to play men’s soccer as a Life U student-athlete. He is a B.B.A Business Administration graduate who is currently dual enrolled in two additional bachelor’s programs: B.S Computer Information Management and B.S Psychology. Prior to coming to the states, he played for Division 1 and Division 2 teams until he turned 18, then played briefly for the national team of Belgium and later in the Netherlands. Eventually he decided he needed to pursue an education along with his athletic career.
“Coming into an environment where sports and education combined along the way in an equal balance is something we don’t do well in Europe,” Vandierendonck says. “In Europe, it’s a choice between playing soccer at a high level or trying to combine it with higher studies, but eventually you will sacrifice some things. But in America, to become pro or to do something in sports, it is easier to have the combination.”
Leaving friends and family behind to study in a country of strangers is a tall order. But if new students are open to the experience, community support and acceptance will find them in due course.
Sophie Hose grew up in Hanover, Germany, and developed an interest in languages, traveling and Chiropractic. She could be called a quadruple threat, as she is a graduate of Life U’s B.S Exercise Science degree program and currently is triple enrolled in the B.S Interdisciplinary Studies, M.S Sport Health Science and Doctor of Chiropractic programs. And she observes how welcome she felt when she first arrived at Life U.
“The people at this school were just so nice and helped me out with every single problem that I could possibly think of,” Hose says. “Whether it was not having a SIM card at the beginning or no car, I always had friends or faculty that were there to help me out.”
Hose also recognizes the cultural depth at work at the university. “We have a great international group,” she concludes. “There are so many nationalities that are present, and I think that’s super interesting because you have so much to learn from everyone around you and different cultures that come together and benefit from each other.”
To learn more about Life U, visit life.edu.