ORONO, Maine — University of Maine student Joel Martin stood in a hallway at the university’s student union showing a few dozen high schoolers around the campus on Thursday. Martin maintained a lively patter of interesting facts about the school, its students and offerings until he seemed to run out of things to say.
“Does anybody,” he asked, “have any questions about majors or what it’s like to attend school here?”
“Any questions about this place or what it does? Anything? Anything at all?”
Orono High School student Agnete Kjerstad raised her hand.
“What’s up with fraternities?” she said. “Do people in fraternities or sororities have to stay within their own groups, or can they mix with other people?”
The ensuing blizzard of student queries that followed Kjerstad’s interrogative continued through the student center tour right into the students’ examination of the first floor of a nearby dormitory, where even the awful smell of sickness — spring cold and flu season has ravaged UMaine, Martin said — failed to dispel the high schoolers’ curiosity.
“That happens every time,” Martin said. “They [high school students] have no idea what they are going to major in or what they’re going to do, but they all want to know about the fraternities and sororities.”
Except that these students came from Asia, Europe and Africa and have been studying at John Bapst Memorial High School, Orono High School and Lee Academy. University leaders and officials at the students’ host schools had the students tour UMaine on Thursday in an effort to entice them to enroll at the university once they graduate.
UMaine, which welcomes international students from about 85 countries, hopes to broaden the school’s cultural diversity and increase its foreign-student tuition income, officials said.
Exactly how many students they hope to have next September was unclear Thursday, but Jim Breece, University of Maine System vice chancellor for academic affairs, said in 2010 that he hoped to establish relationships with South Korean and Chinese officials that could lead to as many as 150 students from each country enrolling as undergraduate students in the system’s seven colleges.
The students toured chemistry labs in Aubert Hall, music facilities in the Class of 1944 Hall and the Lord Hall Art Gallery. Professors and students also gave demonstrations in physics labs at Bennett Hall, said Karen Broucias, an official with the UMaine Office of International Programs.
The university’s international student expansion effort coincides with several state high schools’ attempts to draw students from China and Korea. Stearns High School of Millinocket hopes to host as many as 60 Chinese students within the next two years, while Lee Academy hopes to expand its international student roster from about 90 to 100.
Due partly to a partnership it has formed with China, Orono High School might have as many as 50 international students in September, said Heather Lyford, one of the school’s guidance department workers.
Seeing UMaine was a good experience for the international students, Lyford said.
“It opens their eyes to the opportunities here,” Lyford said. “Something that this trip emphasizes is that the students don’t need to be art majors to take art classes. They can do anything they want to do. I am not sure that they know that.”
Kjerstad, 17, from Norway, and 17-year-old Swede Gustav Mansson like the idea of continuing at UMaine the studies they began at Orono High, but weren’t sure they would.
Such a decision for an international student is probably a bit more difficult than for Mainers. Besides the difficulty of living a world away from family and relatives, international students have to find the money to live and study in the U.S., they said.
“College is free in Sweden, and if I went to school here, I would really miss my family and friends,” Mansson said, “and I would probably need a scholarship.”