Scott King, Office of International Students and Scholars
Scott King remembers the feelings of empowerment and excitement he experienced while studying abroad in Murnau, Germany, as a 19-year-old college student. He grew up in the small town of Kennebunk, Maine, and had only been more than 200 miles from home a handful of times before heading to Europe. Even the simple act of getting what he ordered at a restaurant was an accomplishment. The experience changed his life, giving him a strong appreciation for international education, the field he has worked in since 1979.
Since 2003, King has served as director of The University of Iowa’s Office of International Students and Scholars. His office provides support for visiting students and scholars—anything from finding a place to live to creating a welcoming environment to advocating immigration policies conducive to educational exchange. He’s also working to promote diversity by recruiting more international students and scholars to The University of Iowa.
King sat down with fyi to talk about recruiting international students, his hobbies, and his experience becoming an instant “dad” with teenage exchange students.
How really wonderfully diverse the world is, but yet how there’s an underlying humanness to all of us. We all want to connect with other people, and everybody wants to have some sort of newness and excitement in their life.
If you could change something about your job, what would it be?
Getting immigration regulations to be more realistic. For example, international students only get one semester they can ever be less than full time—one semester to adequately adjust to the United States and university study. The average student from Des Moines needs more than a semester of adjustment. Also, it’s almost impossible for these students to get permission to work off campus, even though immigration studies have shown that the work policies could be liberalized without any impact on employment of U.S. citizens. There are a lot of little things that, if tweaked, could make it a lot easier for students and for us.
What’s being done to bring more international students and scholars to the University?
Just like with U.S. students, it’s getting out there and talking with students and parents that gets students here. The University of Iowa has a lot to offer students, but we need to improve name recognition. We’ve got educational recruiting tours scheduled for Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. I’ll be going to Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. We’ve invested in memberships supporting overseas advising centers, and we’re advertising in print and online.
What challenges do you face as you recruit?
One big challenge is competition. Everybody’s recruiting now—Australia, Canada, Britain, and the other schools in the United States. We have to convince students to look at this state in the middle of the United States that no one knows about.
What effect did 9/11 have on recruiting international students and scholars?
The worst fallout of 9/11 as far as recruiting has been a perception of “foreigners, stay home.” I’m not sure that attitude was true, but the United States didn’t act fast enough to overcome this impression. More recently, government officials realized this was a problem and have been more proactive in working with schools to recruit students than we’ve seen in almost three decades. Now we just need to some law changes to help. As it is now, Congress looks at immigration as one issue, whether the issue is students, people coming to live here permanently, or people who cross the border illegally.
How many countries have you visited?
Nineteen that were countries at the time—East Germany and West Germany were separate—and I’ll be adding six after this trip to the Middle East.
What else do you do in your spare time?
I sing in the Quire, the GLBT choir. I’m also a member of Iowa City Human Rights Commission, and I’m undergoing training to be an anti-racism trainer for the Episcopal Church. I enjoy cooking and reading.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken, and did it pay off?
I have no children, and after four months here, when I had just barely settled in, I agreed to become “Dad” to a 16-year-old I had never met. His name is Levan, and he’s from the Republic of Georgia. That was one of the best experiences of my life. It taught me a different part of international exchange. He’s an amazing young man, and I love him as my own. We went through the ups and downs of culture shock, the ups and downs of being a teenager. He took my car for a joy ride once, without a driver’s license. I’m currently host father to twin 17-year-olds from Korea. My philosophy now is that teenager trumps everything else culturally. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, you’re a teenager above all.
By Nicole Riehl