Why international students choose to study at COD

91 international students are taking classes at COD this fall 2022 semester.


Photo courtesy of The Chaparral. International students and local students are hanging out in the conference room at the International Office.

Samuel Wagner and Fahid Sharqawi are both international students at College of the Desert. Wagner is in his second year at COD, and Shargawi just started his journey at the college this fall semester. Both have different backgrounds, but they found their way to the desert.

Wagner comes from Germany and Sharqawi’s native country is Jordan. Sharqawi says, “Back in my home country, I was not able to choose the major I was interested in.” College of the Desert was a good choice, he explains, where he could choose the right major and family members live close to the college, making it an easy decision. Wagner came to COD because it is less expensive than starting at a four-year university. He likes COD’s proximity to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.

Fahid Sharqawi
Photo courtesy of The Chaparral. Fahid Sharqawi just started his studies at College of the Desert this Fall of 2002.

Sharqawi, a big car aficionado, is enrolled in automotive technology; his career goal is to open his own car shop after graduating. He says, “Everybody is very nice and friendly. I enjoy being here.”

Wagner wants to work in an international business environment when he graduates. He double majors in business administration and communications. Wagner can imagine a career as a project manager or becoming an instructor at a university at some point in his life. He enjoys being in California as there are lots of interesting cities to discover like Los Angeles, San Fransisco or San Diego.

“There are so many different cities and attractions in a relatively small area. There is a lot to see and everything is so easy to reach.” Both enjoy COD’s diversity and the California lifestyle.

Samuel Wagner
Photo courtesy Samuel Wagner
Samuel Wagner is in his second year at College of the Desert. He has a double major in Business Administration and Communications.

The Director of International Education Cody McCabe confirms that California is a big draw for students around the world. It has its reputation. He further believes the name ‘College of the Desert’ can be challenging for aspiring students. It doesn’t begin to translate the concept of the beautiful resort-style location it is located in.

Most students who attend College of the Desert have advisors or counselors in their home country who are introducing them to the community college. McCabe proudly says that COD has a very good word-of-mouth reputation. Students hear from a friend or a family member who has been there. It is pretty rare that a student will go through the whole process on their own to locate COD, research it, apply, and then actually come. Almost all the students have some guidance.

Cody McCabe
Photo courtesy of The Chaparral. Cody McCabe, Director of International Education

Marbella Ordaz is the International Education Program Assistant. She works closely with Cody McCabe. Often, she is the first person who is in touch with the new international students. She assists students with their applications. She answers questions that students may have regarding their English proficiency and required TOEFL tests. When the students have arrived, Ordaz assists the new students with questions regarding jobs on campus, driver’s licenses or how to access the students’ self-service portal, the learning platform Canvas or their student emails.

“Thankfully, COVID-19 barriers have started to diminish this year,” McCabe explains, “Students who want to come just need proof of vaccination. Some COVID restrictions still linger around. Students cannot get in personal meetings with the International Office or other college representatives. Those meetings are still online. Some students would prefer a conversation or go to meetings and have presentations before they decide to enroll.”

Marbelly Ordaz
Photo courtesy of The Chaparral. Marbella Ordaz, International Education Program Assistant

“Right now there are 91 international students from 23 different countries enrolled at COD. Asian countries, in particular, Japan is one of the top-sending regions for the college,” states McCabe. “Most of the students are degree-seeking,” he explains. Approximately 33 students are here for temporary study for one semester or a year.

According to McCabe, the popular majors for international students are “business which is definitely number one, followed by economics.” English is popular this fall, there is a group of 11 students who study in this major. Computer science is popular and health sciences, but there are also students who are interested in liberal arts and seek a more general degree.

“International students are important in the campus community,” explains McCabe. They add to COD’s diversity and offer new perspectives and experiences for the local students. They bring different cultures to the campus; it really helps students to understand the world. International students are participating in their classes and bring different points of view. McCabe further elaborates that through the International Education Program the local students participate in extracurricular events. The office provides leadership, social and cultural engagement opportunities to the local students.

Ordaz is also one of the advisors for the International Club. The club consists of a large number of international students and local students. It also offers a chance to gain leadership opportunities either as president of the club or students can apply for one of the officers’ positions. The club offers a broad variety of activities and events like volleyball at the Civic Park, different get-together events like an ice cream social to fundraiser activities for the club.

Everybody is welcome in the International Office. Local students and international students serve as student leaders and become part of the program. They can develop leadership skills. Aside from that, the international office provides abroad opportunities for local students. “Right now,” McCabe says, “there are three local students in London as international students. In the past, local students went to Japan or Costa Rica and Vietnam.” McCabe hopes that they can send students to Japan and Costa Rica next year again. He concludes, “We want to make sure that there is every possible opportunity for local students to have the benefits of international education just like our international students have.”

Fahid Sharqawi’s and Samuels Wagner’s journey at COD has just started, but they are part of the college community now, which can look back on a long tradition of successful international students. Ordaz notes the moments that stay with her are always at the beginning when the new students arrive at orientation. She doesn’t forget their faces. She assists them through their time at COD and often stays in touch with them after their graduation. She says, “Seeing them succeed is the most rewarding part of my job!”