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International students represent change

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It is a Tuesday, and for Sharath Allam, that means English class.

It also means picking up his friend, Amar Acharya, and driving from Bloomington to Eastern.

With two hours until his destination, Allam prepares himself for his commute: a 101-mile marathon through the quiet plains of Illinois, fighting boredom and traffic as his buddy Amar sits quietly in the passenger seat.

All of this for a English class two times a week at Eastern.

For most students, such a trip might seem infinitely far, but after having already trekked halfway around the globe to get an education, it is a cakewalk.

Allam, 23, transferred to Eastern from Cleveland State University this fall to study computer technology, but he is originally from Hyderabad, India.

Acharya, a 31-year-old student in Eastern’s Master of Technology program, is already 8,000 miles from his native Orissa, India, a smaller coastal province just northwest of the Bay of Bengal.

So 101 miles is nothing, he said.

Last year in May, Acharya took a break from his job with IBM, where he had worked since 2010, to move in with his wife in Bloomington.

Four months later, he and Allam were taking the first of many trips to Charleston for the twice-weekly English workshops required for their master’s degree programs.

This fall, enrollment of international students at Eastern hit an all-time high, largely thanks to the growth of the university’s economics and technology programs.

Among international graduate students, India was one of the most well-represented nations, and both Allam and Acharya said they credit that to the growing interest in technology throughout India.

Acharya, who graduated from the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology in India, said so far he really enjoys Eastern’s program, namely because of the individualized attention he feels the program emphasizes.

“In India, university is much, much different,” Acharya said. “Technology programs have no opportunity for interaction. You basically go to class, take notes, take one exam at the end of the semester, and that is it. If you fail, you fail—that is it.”

He said Eastern’s program is not nearly as intense as similar Indian ones, where he said he was usually in class from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., six days a week.

“Semesters were six months long in India, and there was no participation at all,” he said.

Allam said his decision to transfer to Eastern was largely prompted by the coursework in the technology program as well.

“The coursework is just more appealing here,” he said. “It’s a good blend of technology and management subject and is more balanced than a lot of other places.”

In many ways, Allam and Acharya are indicative of what are slow but sure changes at Eastern, representing a growing presence of international students both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

As the university continues to pursue advancements in programs like sustainable energy, technology and business, they simultaneously increase the likelihood of bringing more stories like Allam’s and Acharya’s to campus.

Robert Downen can be reached at 581-2812 or at

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The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.
International students represent change