Tracy Nakajima understands the impact Central Michigan University has on international students and vice versa. She, too, was an international student.
Tracy traveled to China to study abroad. She remained in Asia for 15 years, spending time in Taiwan and Japan. She learned Mandarin Chinese, studied paralegal studies with a focus on immigration law and volunteered at a Vietnamese refugee camp for relocation.
It was during those 15 years she discovered who she was and what she wanted to do. In spending a decade and a half in a culture different than her own, the world opened up to her.
As an international student, she also learned she was bringing her culture to them. It was mutual and a chance for everyone to learn from each other.
"International students bring the world to CMU and to themselves," Tracy said. "Everyone has a story, and we don't know what it is until we talk to them and get to know them."
By talking with them, we're going to their home as much as they are coming here.
"This is a chance to learn about the world without having to leave Mount Pleasant," she said.
Her passion for bringing cultures together to share ideas is what drives her in her role as director of International Students and Scholar Services.
"The number one goal of our office is to make them know they are welcome," she said. "To me, it's the natural thing to do. It's always been a part of my life, and I can't imagine not finding it worthwhile to welcome international students and learn from them. As educators, that's what we should strive to do."
Over the past decade, CMU's international student population has grown more than 80 percent, with more than 1,200 students in fall of 2016 from 60 countries.
Tracy said she misses living abroad, but the international students help alleviate that.
"I don't get to travel anymore. I'm here," she said. "But they bring the world to me."