IRVING – At home in Katmandu, Nepal, Pankaj Karki researched colleges in the United States. He initially decided to attend a university in South Dakota. But when he arrived there, he was one of just nine students from his country.
"I was kind of homesick over there, and it was hard to adjust," he said.
Then his aunt and uncle told him about North Lake College in Irving.
The country that sends the most international students to Dallas community colleges may come as a surprise. It's Nepal, a nation bordered by India and China and the home of Mount Everest and the Himalayan mountain range.
There are 1,366 Nepalese students enrolled in the community college district. The campus within the college district with the greatest concentration is North Lake, with 832 Nepalese students.
"Here you see a lot of similar people like you," said Karki, who works at the school's welcome and advising center and is considering studying nursing or business.
Many students tell similar stories. Counselors at English and SAT language preparatory programs in Nepal recommended universities in many states. But once the students arrived, they learned about Texas and decided to transfer. After completing their associate's degrees, some students transfer to the University of Texas at Arlington, which has a Nepalese Students Association.
In 2008, Nepal was ranked 11th in sending international students to U.S. colleges and universities, according to the Institute for International Education, with 8,936 students taking courses, mostly at the undergraduate level, an increase of 15 percent from the previous year.
The report noted that Nepalese enrollment increased dramatically from 1996, when just 1,219 Nepalese students were enrolled. Meanwhile, the number of American students in college courses in the U.S. has dropped.
Nepalese students are seeking to get away from continued unrest in the impoverished country. In 2008, the country began transitioning from a monarchy to a federal democratic republic. The shift followed a civil war brought about by communist Maoist insurgents.
Kapil Dixit studied at North Lake and returned to Nepal last year to work as an artist. He named his studio #8 art studio in honor of his old apartment address in Irving.
"My experience there has helped me a lot to establish my career here in Nepal," he said.
When he first arrived in Texas, he was accustomed to painting mountain landscapes. But at the college, he took courses in sculpture and figure painting. He donated his works to the college to establish an art award before leaving.
Shirish Rimal, 27, studied at North Lake and is now at the University of North Texas. He had graduated from Tribhuvan University in Nepal and was working in a bank before his co-workers urged him to study abroad.
"It will be easier to get a better position," he said.
Irving is a gateway community to many immigrant families, many of whom are Latino and Asian.
Many of the Nepalese students meet at least once a week at one of the city's two Nepalese restaurants, Himalayan Aroma or Temptation. There's a Nepalese language and math tutoring program offered to children on Saturdays and a Dallas Everest Lions Club. Other residents are trying to raise funds for a Nepalese Hindu temple. Though many Indians in the area are also Hindu, the countries differ in their holidays. The Nepalese are able to celebrate holidays such as 15-day Dashain together.
Many Nepalese work at local convenience stores or gas stations. They were shaken recently by news that clerk Pankaj Joshi fled back to Nepal after being accused of stealing a $1 million lottery ticket from a Grand Prairie resident
But many young Nepalese come here for a better education.
Roshna Kandel, 22, first studied in Alabama before moving to Texas to study business.
"My parents didn't want me to come," she said. "I'm the only daughter, and they wanted me to stay. But there is a big trend coming to the United States in these days. For each house, one daughter or one son is in the United States. I just see the opportunities."
Prem Adhikari, a chemistry professor at Richland College and president of the Nepalese Society Texas, said he encourages students to speak up and ask questions of their professors, which may not be their custom. Since many students learned British English in Nepal, adjusting to American slang can also be difficult. They also struggle financially.
"A lot of times students have to rely on themselves and face the challenges of American living standards, which is costly," he said. "They have to fulfill the high standards of their parents, fulfill that duty and survive."
|Here's a list of the top five countries for international students enrolled at Dallas County Community College District campuses. The DCCCD notes that some immigrant students may not be counted as international students because they graduated from Texas high schools.|
SOURCE: Dallas County Community College District
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|All campus totals
Editor's note: for interviews, photo opportunities and media support, please contact Ali Adams, marketing and advertising coordinator, at 972-273-3005, or the North Lake College Public Information Office, 972-273-3004.
North Lake College is a member of the Dallas County Community College system. Educational opportunities are offered by the Dallas County Community College system without regard to race, color, age, national origin, religion, sex or sexual orientation.