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14 March 2014

International students of U.S. colleges take school pride with them when they graduate

Every month, a group of former students of the University of Texas at Austin meets. Members listen to a speaker discuss current affairs or cheer on the university's American football team, named the Texas Longhorns after a type of cattle bred in the state. Recently, the group started an annual Texas-style barbecue to raise money to send a few promising local young people to study at their alma mater.

But unlike most of the university's 150 alumni clubs, this one is not meeting in the United States, but in Mexico City, and most of its members are Mexicans.

The more than 1,000 alumni in the Mexico City area "feel very strongly that the University of Texas led to changes in their lives that have been very positive to themselves and the country," said Ron Nicholas, the club's president. Because of their shared higher education experience, the members feel a special bond.

American colleges have long promoted alumni associations as a way for their graduates to network and as a way for the schools to tap former students for donations or help in recruiting new students. As foreign enrollments have steadily grown, institutions have increasingly encouraged alumni in foreign countries to form clubs too.

The University of Texas has about 11,500 alumni living outside the United States. "Higher education is increasingly a global community," said Tim Taliaferro, spokesman for the Texas Exes, as the university's alumni network is called. "Just because they're further away, that doesn't mean they don't want to engage with their alma mater."

David Jeu, assistant vice chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, agrees. Overseas, former students feel "an element of pride" in having attended a prestigious American college, he said. His university boasts about 25 alumni clubs in other countries and is in the process of approving a dozen new ones in Latin America, Europe and Asia.

The UC Berkeley Club of France has a membership that ranges from fresh graduates to retirees who earned their degrees in the 1940s. As is the case with other overseas alumni clubs, its members socialize and engage in professional networking — finding jobs and discussing business deals. "People come for business networking," said Nicolas Tollet, an attorney with an oil and gas exploration company in France who founded the club in 2008, "but also because they miss UC Berkeley and want to get to know one another."

Alumni clubs are springing up in all corners of the globe. Abdullah I. Almojel, a vice president of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, near Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, earned a doctoral degree in engineering at George Washington University (GW) in Washington. Two years ago, he established the GW Alumni Club of Saudi Arabia. The club is a venue for socializing, but it also promotes academic cooperation between GW and Saudi Arabia. It just helped establish a new "blended" degree program in which students will split their studies between Saudi Arabia and Washington.

"We are a social club that tries to benefit Saudi society by bringing the best from GW University to develop a better life for our people," said Almojel.

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