International Student & Scholar Services

Student Stories

Emily Tan

Emily Tan sitting in a sail boat in a body of water

My name is Emily and I am born and raised in Malaysia. This is my second year in Western and I hope to declare a major in Communication Disorders. I never had the opportunity to visit campus or even the state of Washington before deciding I wanted to do college here. Instead, I browsed through hundreds of google images and read many testimonies from students to make my decision. It turned out to be one of the best choices I made. I love the fact that we are surrounded by water and mountains - it truly is the best of both worlds.

Starting as a freshman, I had to take all the GURs, but that also leaves me with more time to explore other opportunities and clubs Western has to offer. There is always something for everyone – whether it is a club, a movement or even a favorite corner to read. In the short time I have been here, I have done much more than I had hope to achieve. I fell in love with Lakewood, Western’s facility out on Lake Whatcom, during the International Student’s Welcome BBQ. Because of that, I joined the Western sailing team. I have never sailed before but the team was willing to teach me anything I needed to know. It is something I look forward to after a long day of classes. Today, they are the biggest family I have here in Bellingham.

There is also the Outdoor Center that has rentals available and excursions every quarter. It gives students the opportunity to meet people or try outdoor activities that they are not familiar with. I signed up for a weeklong backpacking trip to Utah over spring break! I have done day hikes, but never backpacking! Me and a friend from Spain decided to try it out, and guess what? Another memorable memory was made. We hiked through red rocks with our heavy packs, drank water from the canyons, saw some hieroglyphs and slept under a thousand stars.

There was never a time when I felt alone because professors are always present to help you succeed and advisors want you to make the most out of your time. Overall, if my experiences have told me anything, it’s that: no matter your skill level or interests, Western is the place to be for new experiences, new lessons and new stories!

Takuma Okamoto

Takuma Okamoto posing with a horse

I am Takuma Okamoto from Japan. I am currently pursuing an Accounting bachelor's degree and planning to apply for graduate school at WWU. A year and half ago, I transferred to WWU from community college in California, and my student life at WWU has provided me a lot of opportunities to improve not only my knowledge towards business and accounting, but also my critical thinking and communication skills.

One of my favorite aspects of WWU is that most 300 and 400 level classes have fewer than 40 students and give them activities to discuss or analyze the subjects and contents of the class. These interactive opportunities allowed me to acquire the skill to express my opinions and work as a group to reach certain goals. In addition, professors encourage students to interact with them and each other. Every single professor I have had at WWU encouraged his or her students to discuss their concerns in class or at his or her office hours. For instance, when I was unsure of if I should aim my career for auditing or tax, I sought Professor Steve Smith’s advice, which helped me make a decision. I decided to pursue an auditing career as it would provide a more flexible career path.

I personally like activities with natural surrounding such as hiking, skiing, and snowboarding. If you like these activities, Bellingham is the best place to visit. I started horseback riding last year and it became a part of my life. I had never ridden a horse before. A friend of mine had her two horses and let me ride one of them. Since then, I have become a horse person. Taking care of horses is a lot of work, and I needed to learn a lot of horse chores and language. It turned out I made a lot of friends and built a friendly community through horseback riding.

WWU is such a great university at taking care of students, and Bellingham is a great place to live with beautiful natural surroundings. You will experience a lot of new things and have a terrific student life here.

Marius Moen

Marius Moen on top of a mountain, standing next to a USA flag planted in the snow

My name is Marius Moen from Oslo, Norway. I am an international student studying Design at Western Washington University. I first fell in love with Washington as an exchange student during high school when I lived in a small town called Goldendale on the east side. I moved to Bellingham in the fall of 2014 for its reputation both as an institution of excellent academics and a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.

The design program at Western has allowed me to develop my skills as an artist and reach a potential that I never knew existed. The faculty has helped me along the way to reach my goals; the competitive nature of the program has pushed me to new limits. Being so close to Seattle, a bastion for design and technology, has fueled my drive in the field of design and the connections I have made are priceless.

When I arrived in Bellingham I quickly learned the importance of getting involved with the school. I joined the wakeboarding team and the snowboarding club so that I could meet people who shared my interests in outdoor sports. This opened many doors for me and I quickly began creating memories and meeting amazing people. Many of the people I have met I now consider among my closest friends.  The experiences I have gained have helped shape the person I am today. My involvement with the school has allowed me to travel the United States and explore many corners of the beautiful state of Washington.

I can confidently say that my decision to study at Western was one of the best I have ever made. The students, faculty, and environment have helped transformed Bellingham from a foreign place to a second home. I know that when I graduate in June of 2017 I will be proud to hold a diploma from Western Washington University.

Innes Tsui

Inness Tsui

My name is Innes Tsui, an international student from Hong Kong. I started attending Western in 2012 and I am majoring in Biochemistry. I will be graduating this summer and entering grad school afterward. After searching on the website of College Board, I decided on Western as the best fit for my undergraduate study due to the opportunity for a wide range of studies and undergraduate research participation, and more importantly, its friendly environment for international students.

Over these four years, not only have I enriched my knowledge and found my career goal, I also transformed from a shy person to a more social and versatile person, thanks to the opportunity to meet people with different cultural backgrounds that Western provides. Being uncommunicative and lacking public speaking skills, I never considered applying for scholarship and volunteering in activities. At the beginning of my junior year, I came across the International Student Scholarship thanks to my best friend Jiaxin, who is also a former scholarship recipient graduate in Spring 2015. Jiaxin encouraged me to apply for this scholarship and invited me to join her for the International Cooking Class, where she volunteered to teach cooking Chinese dishes. From this and other experience, I acknowledged that Western is working very hard to advocate cultural diversity. I was motivated to learn more about the ISS Scholarship and to further cross-cultural understanding.

Throughout my academic career here, I was inspired by many of my instructors.  Four years ago, I came here as a pre-med student purely to satisfy my parents. However, I found later on that chemistry is what I am truly interested. Encouraged by some of my former instructors, I joined an undergraduate research program in computational chemistry and applied to a PhD program in chemistry. Fortunately, I was admitted to UC Davis and will start my graduate life there this fall. These encounters guide me to the path of higher education and orient me to my career goal of being a college professor.

Western has opened my mind to new ideas and opportunities, and at the same time, encouraged me to be a critical thinker. I am grateful to be a student at Western and do consider it my second home.

Keiko Itagaki

Keiko Itagaki wearing a cap and gown at Fall Comencement 2017

I am Keiko Itagaki from Tokyo, Japan. I just graduated from WWU with my bachelor’s degree in Recreation and my minor in International Business.

I first came to Western as an exchange (AUAP) student from Asia University in Tokyo for five months in 2012. My AUAP experience was very positive. I made my lifelong friends with my dorm mates in Mathes, a campus friend, and AUAP volunteers. I was also inspired by the culture, the people, and the environment in Bellingham. Life in Bellingham was very different from my hometown, Tokyo, and I loved it. It just clicked in my head, “this is where I want to be”. After I went back to University in Tokyo from AUAP, I made a decision to restart my college career at Western as a regular student. 

I started with the Intensive English Program (IEP) to improve my English skills, where I made friends from all over the world. It was fascinating for me to get to know and experience other cultures. I became even more interested in cross-cultural experiences. It encouraged me to choose to study International Business.  However, when I found the Recreation Program, I changed my mind instantly to be a Recreation major.

A lot of people are not aware of the Recreation major, but it is a very small, unique, and amazing program at Western. It consists of four phases with approximately 60 students, and all students complete each phase together. Each phase has an overnight retreat, field experiences, and group works, which allow the students not only to learn recreation deeper but also to form a strong community.

The Recreation program is an inclusive community, which is what I loved the most about the program. It is hard for international students to make friends regardless of their nationality, race, or ethnic groups. However, I was able to make lifelong friendships within the program because of the culture of the program.

I also found my passions in the field of recreation. The program has four concentrations- Therapeutic Recreation, Outdoors, Ecotourism, and Community. Regardless of your focus, we talked a lot about social justice, inclusion, and diversity, and I realized recreation is something that everyone needs to understand in this society. What I’ve learned from the program was not only what recreation and leisure mean for individuals, but also what we need for a better society. I formed my values and beliefs here. Now, I am very excited to get out of the country and spread ideas of recreation around the world.

I truly believe that quitting Japanese university and restarting college career at WWU in the Recreation Program was the best decision I’ve ever made. Even though the study abroad was never easy for me and it was mentally and physically overwhelming because of cultural and language barriers, it was also the most fulfilling, inspiring, and amazing experience in my life. My study abroad at Western is a life changing experience and has significant impacts on my life.

What I am going to miss about Bellingham? Catching a beautiful sunset!

Sha Huang

Sha Huang in a cap and gown outside, next to a cherry blossom tree

My name is Sha Huang. I am an international student from Shenzhen, China. I started attending Western in 2012 and I am majoring in Psychology and minoring in Sociology. I feel that Western has given me the opportunity to have a wide range of studies. I came to the United States when I was 12 years old and attended high school in Blue Hill, Maine. At my high school, the teacher-student relationships are very close. I became used to that, so I knew I wanted a university that offered the same. I chose Western Washington University because of the teacher-student relationships and the strong student community. The minute I stepped onto campus, I knew that it was a perfect fit.

I am very grateful to Western. You would never get bored here, because we have so many projects, clubs and activities happening and there are so many ways you can be involved. There are over 200 clubs at Western, so it is a pretty safe bet that you can find a club to match your interests. I meet a lot of inspiring people here every day. I love the professors and my friends. I love the Western family—it’s like a second home.

I used to be driven by grades. But in one of the classes I took at Western, SOC 437 Changing China, with Professor Baozhen Luo, I realized that the grade is important, but what you are learning and what you are taking from it is a lot more important. She was so open to our perspectives. It was one of the best learning experiences I have had here because it was enjoyable and it pushed me to think differently.

The people I have met at Western have inspire me to have confidence in my own strength. Within my majors, my professors have been extremely influential. The availability and openness of my professors had been something I have appreciated most here. They don’t just come to class and open the slides on the PowerPoint and expect you to know everything. When I took PSY 341 Psychology and Culture with Professor Jeff King, every day he would walk into class with his energy that you could just feel it, he was happy to be there.

Western has opened my eyes to new interests. Western has really pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I am very fortunate to be on such an active campus that offers so many areas of study, and even though home is far away, the home I have created here has become just as important to me.

Tina Shirasu

Tina Shirasu

My name is Tina Shirasu and I am an international student from Japan. I started attending Western in 2013 and I am majoring in Early Childhood Education in the Woodring College of Education. I set my heart on Western due to the strong Education program. Woodring's vision "to advance knowledge, honor diversities and promote social justice" is an idea I share and am strongly passionate about.

Throughout my academic career at Western, I was blessed with many caring and inspiring educators. These encounters made me decide on becoming a teacher and working my goal to make the same impact to my future students. The classes I have taken so far at Western have broadened my knowledge and opened new doors for me. They have influenced me to further my knowledge in various areas and think critically about global issues. Not only are the materials taught in classes relevant to various field of studies, it has taught me to ask questions, think deeper and to relate it other subject areas.

My very first quarter during freshman year, I enrolled in the Bridge Program. I believe that it has benefited me very much and was a great start to my college life in the United States. The Bridge Program consists of Communication 101, English 100 and Seminar 100. These core classes have helped me build a firm foundation for other classes here at Western Washington University and were a great introduction to American college life. By taking these classes I was able to learn what was expected in classrooms, build valuable relationships with professors and bond with other incoming freshman international students. The relationships that I formed with faculty and students during that time are something that I still cherish now.

I love walking to class every morning admiring the nature that surrounds our beautiful campus. One of the places that I love to spend time studying or hanging out with friends is the Viking Union cafe. Nothing beats great coffee and a comfortable place to quietly study or chat with friends! The WWU community and most of all the International Student & Scholar Services has helped me so much and made me feel comfortable in my “home away from home”.

I decided to apply to and attend Western due to its mission statement, "Active minds, Changing Lives". Western provides higher education and opportunities for students to learn and compete in the global word. I believe my experience here at Western Washington University will be a great asset for my future.

Xiaotian Sun

Xiaotian Sun sitting at the fountain in Red Square

My name is Xiaotian Sun.  I am an international student from Chengdu, Sichuan, China. I am currently a junior and majoring Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management. The reason why I chose Western is because a family friend used to go to school here and she highly recommended Western to me. And when I came here, I just knew that I made the right choice.

Having spent my last four years at Western, I have made a lot of friends from all over the world. Western is a relatively small school with approximately 15,000 people. Its small class style makes you have more opportunities to talk to your classmates and be friends with them. I think it is especially good for international students to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. There are all kinds of students clubs which can help you blend in with a big group of people who have some similarities with you. I personally am one of the members of CSA (Chinese Student Association). We have regular meeting every quarter and will host some events like “Chinese Lunar New Year Dinner” once a year.

One thing that I love about Western the most is its location. Our school is located in Bellingham, Washington, which is a small town and has a quite relaxing lifestyle. Bellingham is also located between two big cities in North America, Seattle and Vancouver. During weekdays, I think it is good to stay in Bellingham because there is not that much distraction here, you can really focus on your study. During weekends, my favorite activity is to take a small trip to Seattle or Vancouver with my friends. Therefore, I can maintain a good balance between studying and entertainment. Another thing I love about Western is its student rec center, which includes a swimming pool, a hot tub, a weight room, a running track, and two basketball courts. I go to the rec center five days a week doing weightlifting, sometimes playing basketball. I see exercising as a great way to release pressures from study. 

My major, Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management, is one of the best programs I’ve ever seen. The whole program is like a big community, people really care about you. They want you to be fully prepared when you graduate. You need to complete two internships in order to reach graduation requirements. Every student in our major has a student mentor and an industry mentor, who can give you advice on student life and future career path.

I love my experience at Western. Hope to see you here!

MaiAnh Nguyen

MaiAnh Nguyen posing with blue diploma cover in front of the fountain in Red Square

My name is MaiAnh Nguyen from Vietnam, one of many international students at Western. Western is located in Bellingham, a small city in the Pacific Northwest, just a 1.5 hour drive north of Seattle, and a 1 hour 15 minute drive south of Vancouver, Canada. I transferred to Western from Edmonds Community College in 2012 and received my Bachelors degree in 2014 in Management Information Systems and Accounting. I will be working as a .Net developer at an IT consulting firm in Sterling, Virginia, this September. The classes at Western are challenging, and almost always have group projects, but my peers are smart and determined to do their best, and the professors are helpful by answering my questions in class and providing office hours for additional discussions. 

During my study at Western, I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the US and the world, share and learn about different cultures, make friends and memories. One of my many fond memories was founding, coordinating and participating in monthly international cooking classes where Western students and international students cook together and learn about each others' culture through delicious cuisine. One of the many places that I often go to on campus is the international student and study abroad offices because there are friendly and helpful staff that are always willing to help me with general questions, academic and family concerns, getting a drivers license, applying for OPT, how to study abroad, or any other matters. 

Western has provided me a higher education with valuable academic and social skills, people and memories, cultures and food! My experiences here has been positive and I hope it will be for you as well!

Wajeha Arshad

Wajeha Arshad posing with blue diploma cover in front of the fountain in Red Square

My name is Wajeha Arshad and I graduated from Western’s College of Business and Economics with a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Operations Management with a minor in Economics. I am an international student from Oman.

For my higher education, I wanted to enroll in a university that not only offered an excellent education, but also provided opportunities for career advancement and cultural exchange. Based on my experience at the university, I can confidently say that Western has exceeded all my expectations!

Western has a very stimulating academic environment. Most of my classes involved a great mix of theoretical knowledge, group projects, and real world application. My operations management classes toured distribution centers and factories of companies like Boeing, Target, PACCAR, Kaas Tailored, and REI to learn how the concepts we discussed in class were applied in a business setting. The College of Business and Economics has strong relationships with various American organizations, so throughout the academic year, we students can take advantage of amazing networking events, career fairs, and guest lectures.

At Western, I also had the pleasure of meeting several people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Through ISSS, I got the unique opportunity to lead and be part of Western’s Cross-Cultural Student Association (CCSA). CCSA is a club that promotes cultural awareness within Western’s student community. The club organizes discussions, games, and events that showcase performances, traditional clothing, food, and other cultural activities. I highly encourage all incoming students to join CCSA. It’s a great way to make friends!

My experience at Western has truly been incredible. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as a Viking and I am looking forward to the next part of my journey!

Western International Students in the News

"International students build relationships with soccer". The Western Front. 5 March 2016

Featuring Mohammed Al Askar (Saudi Arabia) and Teresa Suehiro (Japan/Korea)


"بعيدا عن الوطن (Far From Home)". Klipsun. 30 November 2015

Profile of Saudi students at Western, including Fatimah al-Saif, Mahmoud al-Saif, and Anas al-Sabri.


"Buddy program pairs exchange students to help meet people". The Western Front. 29 September 2015

Article on International Buddy Program, featuring Buddy Program Coordinator Taiya Brown and exchange student Haruka Kasugai (Japan)


"iLEAD - My Study Abroad Experience". 7 October 2014

Video by exchange student Laura Piggott (Australia)


"I am a Western Student". 18 September 2014

Video featuring Batu Dashnyam (Mongolia) and Prisca Leung (Hong Kong)


"Conquering the Cascades". The Western Front. 3 June 2014

Featuring exchange students Jeanne Caron-Guyon (France) and Amelie Zobl (Austria)


"From Cairo to Bellingham: Exchange student competes in DECA, explores dance and works to start medical nonprofit in Egypt". AS Review. 12 May 2014

Profile of exchange student Mark Maximos (Egypt)


"Western Celebrates International Women's Day". The Western Front. 9 March 2014

Featuring exchange students Ghinwa Frayha (Lebanon), Walid Moulahoum (Algeria), and Annika Eriksson-Lindberg (Sweden)


"Western hosts Global Gourmets". The Western Front. 9 March 2014

Featuring Aziz Alhebaishi (Saudi Arabia), Druksel Dorji (Bhutan), and Yewon Kwon (South Korea)


"Student finds community across the globe". The Western Front. 31 October 2013

Profile of Batu Dashnyam (Mongolia)