Southwest Minnesota State University students begin classes on Monday. And while many come from communities close to Marshall, a group of 21 students from Taiwan have arrived on campus to pursue their master's in business administration degree.
Three of those students feel that receiving their master's degree from SMSU will help them professionally when they return to their home country, as well as giving them an immersive experience in U.S. culture.
The three are Emily Lee, Amber Yuan and Jessie Chang. Both Yuan and Chang are from Taipei, while Lee is from Hsinchu.
The 21 students are joined by four faculty members from a trio of colleges in Taiwan. Those faculty members are on the trip to help with the acclimation process and will return to Taiwan in the next couple of weeks.
"It took about 15 hours," said Yuan of the 7,100-mile trip to Marshall. "We went from Taiwan to Los Angeles, and then to Minneapolis. I'm kind of tired."
None of the three are worried about the coursework associated with the MBA degree. They do admit, however, to a little nervousness about living in an entirely new culture.
They had been briefed about "Minnesota Nice" before they arrived, and the stories are true.
"People are very nice and friendly. They say 'hello,'" said Lee.
How this partnership came about goes back over a year. Graduate Office Director Cori Ann Dahlager and Dean of the College of Business, Education and Professional Studies Dr. Raphael Onyeaghala traveled to Taiwan last March in order to finalize the partnership.
"They had contacted us," said Dahlager. "They had a similar agreement with another Minnesota college, but it wasn't quite the fit they were looking for. They wanted a smaller school that was safe, and they wanted their students to live on campus to get the full Midwest experience."
They have been busy getting acclimated to life in southwest Minnesota and as students at SMSU. Little things that so many students take for granted are all new to the group.
"Having an American degree will make me more competitive compared to others in Taiwan or other Asian countries," said Yuan. "Taiwan is a small country and learning about another culture is important."
Lee was working for a solar company in Taiwan when she heard about the program.
"I wanted something different, and I'm able to get this (MBA) in a year," she said.
They will take courses in the fall and spring semesters, as well as next summer. They will return next August.
Taiwan culture is more rigid, said Yuan, and she hopes U.S. culture rubs off on her.
"When you ask a question in college (in Taiwan), the professor has only one answer that is correct. The professors in the U.S. are more open-minded. There is more discussion,"?she said.
"I want to get my degree, return to Taiwan and share my experiences," said Lee. "I want to experience the U.S. It's interesting here, and it was a bit of culture shock. Here people hug a lot. That's not true in Taiwan; it's a bit awkward."
Chang said she's interested in management and education.
"People are more open-minded here," she said. "It's important to our children in the future, if we can change the education system just a bit. It's a global world now and living here will be helpful for me."
Simple things will also be an adjustment. Like having a roommate.
"Jessie is my roommate," said Yuan. "I've never shared a room before," she said. "Everyone has a different lifestyle, and now I will learn about how to work with others, how to cooperate."
Another observation: "Things are clean here, the environment," said Chang. "In Taiwan, someone might throw the garbage in a corner. It's very clean here."
Mention food, and the trio bursts into laughter. Put it this way: They're not overly impressed.
"We're used to rice, noodles, teriyaki," said Chang. "Here it's mashed potatoes, hamburgers, cheese. It's a culture shock."
Yuan said her palate runs more toward fresh vegetables and fruits.
"And the apples here are different. They're more sweet. And the water is salty," she said.
The affordability of the MBA program at SMSU was also attractive, they said.
They were welcomed by the administration and their MBA professors at a Tuesday dinner, where they received a bag with several gifts, including an SMSU fleece, which will come in handy.
"I was in Japan once after a big storm, and it was two degrees at that time," said Yuan. That's Celsius. Or, about 35 degrees Fahrenheit. They haven't experienced below-zero temperatures but will learn soon enough to grumble about the winter weather like the rest of the population.
You'll be seeing a lot of our new friends from Taiwan in the next year. Take time to reaffirm their belief in "Minnesota Nice."