Share / Discuss

Illustration of students abroad

The Global Bridge

Swarthmore alumni are creating change and growth in their home countries

Students are drawn to Swarthmore from around the world. When they graduate, many return home with aspirations to bring about social change, build a business, or otherwise make a distinctive mark.

This academic year, Swarthmore enrolled 232 international students—a number about double what it was a decade ago—representing 54 countries.

“They like that they’re going to be able to interact with faculty, that it’s a small school—probably the same things a domestic student would say,” Jennifer Marks-Gold, director of the International Student Center, says of what draws them to the College. “Some of them have projects they’ve started in their home countries before they even get here; the social justice aspect is really important to them.”

Perhaps the quintessential example of an international alum who returned home to export the Swarthmore ethos is Patrick Awuah ’89, H’04. The founder and president of Ghana’s Ashesi University, Awuah established the institution in 2002 in an attempt, he has said, “to create an institution like Swarthmore College in Africa.”

The primary way Ashesi is modeled on Swarthmore is in its broad undergraduate curriculum, he says.

“At the time I was making this decision [to found the university], the higher education system in Ghana was enrolling about 5 percent of the country’s college-age individuals,” says Awuah, who won a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” in 2015.

“They were educating the leadership of this country, in the public sector and the private sector. Because there was such a small cohort, they were going to be the ones running the courts, running the businesses, running public services, and so on. What I felt was missing was that there wasn’t the attention to critical thinking, or to having students deeply discuss ethics. We wanted to demonstrate a new approach.”

Here, eight former international students share what they took away from Swarthmore—and what they’ve since given back to their communities.

Gunilla Nilsson ’92 — Sweden
Efua Asibon ’16 — Ghana
Juan Víctor Fajardo ’09 — Venezuela
Alexandra Papalexopoulou ’88 — Greece
Emanuel Jinich ’79 — Mexico
Andrew Stobo Sniderman ’07 — Canada
Feng He ’03 — China
Su Wai ‘Hillary’ Yee ’14 — Myanmar