By Julie Angell
The Meridian Times
Many international students will go back to their homes or settle in different parts of the country after graduation, but more are choosing to stay in the area.
Meridian Township benefits from having Michigan State University close by, where the international student population has increased significantly. According to the Office for International Students and Scholars, there were 7,161 international students in fall 2013. That was an 8.5% increase from the previous year.
Efforts are being made by Meridian Township to keep a culturally diverse community.
In the few years these students come to Michigan, they are making an impact on the economy and on the community’s culture, said Julie Brixie, Meridian Township treasurer. Brixie is a member of a coalition of leaders that tries to keep international talent in the area. LEAP (Lansing Economic Area Partnership) helps aspiring and current business owners in the Lansing area.
International students are the “creme de la creme” of the young talent in the area, said Brixie, and programs like LEAP are trying to keep them in the Lansing area. LEAP is doing so by collaborating with businesses to create internship programs for international students and helping budding talent.
The Meridian Township Economic Development Corporation also works with LEAP to help international residents thrive.
“Our doors are open,” said Marsha Madle, Meridian Economic Development Corporation board chair.
The corporation is working to connect more with the international community and reach out to established, local businesses. For now, the largest effort LEAP has put forth is being a sponsor of the Chinese New Year Celebration at Meridian Mall. The celebration gives the international population a chance to participate in cultural activities and entertainment.
“I think its a new process but its an exciting process,” Madle said. “It’s the connecting point we really need to figure out.”
When international students come to East Lansing for school, they may leave to other parts of the state, country or world. In the past few years, Brixie has noticed more of them settling in Meridian Township. LEAP and Meridian Township have tried to promote cheap and appealing real estate properties for singles and families to move into. With the dramatic increase in Asian populations at MSU, Meridian has benefited greatly when it comes to an increase in real estate purchases during and after the students’ college careers.
The township has benefited culturally as well as economically. Rachel Nimsombun has been the manager of the Oriental Mart on Grand River Ave. for two years and she’s lived in the area much longer. Since moving here from Thailand, she’s experienced how supportive the area is for people from outside the country.
“I love the diversity,” Nimsombun said.
Nimsombun has seen MSU international students move into the area, find jobs and raise families. Raising her own family was a positive experience for her as well, as she said the schools and community as a whole helped her family feel welcomed.
Oriental Mart has been around before the international student population has dramatically increased, and the store has grown because of it. Last year, the market added live fish, to accommodate international students used to having fresh fish.
Meridian is trying to avoid the “brain drain,” as Brixie called it, which is when international people with potential emigrate from the area. Multiple Asian markets and restaurants are helping the international population feel more at home, which in turn helps the community’s economy when they choose to stay here.
“I would just like to see Meridian Township be known for having that international welcome mat,” Madle said.