International, non-LDS students at BYU

Many students from BYU's Marriott School intern in local and global settings.(Photo courtesy Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
As of Fall 2014, international students represented 6 percent of the students at BYU and non-LDS students, from more than 25 faiths, represented 1.3 percent, according to Y-Facts. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

High standards and academic prowess of BYU are the main draw for many LDS students who attend the college. These same aspects also attract non-LDS and international students who sometimes move thousands of miles across the globe to attend the LDS university.

As of Fall 2014, international students represented 6 percent of the students at BYU and non-LDS students, from more than 25 faiths, represented 1.3 percent, according to Y-Facts. Some international students also fall into the non-LDS student category.

Neal Jenne, a BYU student and tour guide on campus, said most international and non-LDS students are attracted to BYU because of the Honor Code and academic programs when looking at different university options.

“Most international students, when they think about American college campuses, they think about the movies that they’ve seen and the party atmosphere,” Jenne said. “During the tour, we talk about the Honor Code and students are often taken back by it, or surprised.”

The Honor Code was formally put in writing in the 1940’s and has been modified several times since. It regroups general principles and dress and grooming standards by which students must agree to and live by.

Jenne said he had the opportunity to take many impressive international students on tour and said he was proud that international students are interested in studying at BYU.

“I took the number one archer from Ecuador on tour once — that was very cool,” Jenne said. “Many of them have impressive stories.”

Joshua O’Hare, a non-member who recently graduated from BYU, said the Honor Code was one of the reasons he chose to attend BYU. “It seemed like a really good place to be because there isn’t the big party scene and pressure to drink like there is at other schools,” O’Hare said. BYU has been ranked No. 1 “stone cold sober school” for the last 18 years by the Princeton Review.

Justine Carré, an international student from France, said she chose to attend BYU to be able to express her faith more freely. “I wanted the experience of studying abroad and to be in a place where it would be a little easier to be a Mormon (as opposed to France),” Carré said.

Carré said because the American school system is more flexible academically, BYU allowed her to have more time to choose a career path she liked.

“I wanted to go to a school that allowed me to change my mind about my career and major. In the French school system once you decide on one subject it’s very complicated to switch to another,” she said.

BYU’s academic prestige remains the main attraction for both non-members and international students. Ania Rdzyń, a non-member and international student from Poland, first heard about BYU as a high school exchange student in Spanish Fork.

“I wanted to pursue my career in public relations and I found out BYU’s program ranked 5th in the nation in PRWeek rankings,” Rdzyń said. “That’s why I decided to apply here.”

The BYU athletic program also attracts many non-LDS students to campus. Alex Tsuruda, a non-member and baseball athlete, said he chose to move from California to go to BYU because of its “outstanding athletic program.”

The Cougar football team was ranked No. 18 in 2014 after four consecutive weeks in the AP ranking list. This year, the team ranked No. 23 during week four of the season.

BYU is also well-known for its large number of returned missionaries, who add to the increased languages found on the BYU campus.

According to Jenne, 70 percent of the students on BYU campus are bilingual. This diversity of languages is an attractive trait for international students who decide to study at BYU.

“It allows foreign students to talk in their native language with others and talk with people who know about their culture… they appreciate that,” Jenne said.

Carré said that as an international student, she loves BYU’s languages communities. “I like having friends who speak and understand my native language because they understand where I come from and my culture,” she said.

International students often face the challenge of following along with class material in their non-native language (English). But non-LDS members can face their own language barrier.

Jenne said non-members are often concerned and intimidated by the required religion courses, which talks about Joseph Smith and things they’ve never heard about.

“It’s easy to get lost in the conversation in class when they start to talk about the church and I know nothing about it,” Rdzyń said.

According to Jenne, another concern non-members have is being treated or seen differently as non-members.

“One of my apprehensions before starting was being one of the few non-members surrounded by everyone who had the same religious beliefs,” Tsurunda said.

O’Hare said he was worried “that people wouldn’t want to associate with me other than to possibly convert me. I also thought that it might be hard for me to make friends since I wasn’t meeting people at church like everyone else.”

But even when his fellow BYU students found out he was not LDS, O’Hare said they still wanted to be friends and spend time with him. He said everybody is friendly on campus.

He said the best thing for new non-member students to do is to “not identify yourself as a non-member at the beginning because you get inundated with a ton of questions and missionaries knocking on your door. It also allows for people to get to know you as a person and not you as a non-member,” O’Hare said.

Despite the differences, international and non-member students find ways to integrate their lifestyle with the Utah Valley culture. They also find things they love about BYU.

“I like how much BYU tries to get students to get to know other students they may not have met before,” Tsuruda said.

Carré said she loves BYU’s “focus on the arts and the opportunities for students to assist to many performances on campus.”

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