There Are More International Students in the US than Ever Before—How Many Get to See the Inside of an American Home?

November 21, 2018 § 2 Comments

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When I worked with students from other countries at the University of Missouri-Columbia back in the late 80s and early 90s, I heard this statistic: Eighty percent of international students don’t step foot inside an American home. I had no reason to argue with that statistic, but I’ve spent the years since then trying, in vain, to track down the source.

Seems that I’m not alone.

In a recent post at Christianity Today, Leiton Chinn, a long-time leader in ministry to international students, writes,

Ever since I began encouraging the church to welcome and host international students over four decades ago, I have heard the repetitive declaration that 80% of international students never enter an American home. Even though I have sought to find the research that reported such a claim without success, the reality is that the majority of students from other countries do not experience being hosted in an American home.

Was 80% ever an accurate figure? Who knows? Without a reliable source, it’s not much more than a convenient, easy-to-remember number that says “too many.” And even if it was true forty-ish years ago, chances are it wouldn’t be exactly the same now.

That being said, I would tend to agree with Chinn that “the majority of students from other countries do not experience being hosted in an American home,” but I can’t say that for sure. And I can’t guess at how much that “majority” would be. To muddy it up even more, I wonder how we should define a “home.” Would the apartment of an American friend count?

Regardless, when it comes to having international students in our homes, we could do better.

There are some numbers concerning international students (and study abroad) that we can be sure of—because they’re tracked carefully each year. They come from the Institute of International Education, which just released its newest figures at the Open Doors briefing on Tuesday. They include the following:

  • For the 2017-18 school year, the number of international students at universities and colleges in the US was at an all-time high of 1,094,792.
  • While this represents a 1.5% increase over the previous year, the number of new-student enrollments decreased by 6.6%.
  • The overall increase was fueled largely by a 15.8% growth in the number of students participating in Optional Practical Training (OPT), which lets students work in the US for up to 12 months during or following their academic studies (up to 36 months for those in the STEM fields).
  • While the number of undergraduate and OPT students grew over the previous year, there was a decline in graduate and non-degree students.
  • China leads the way in sending the most students to the US, making up 33.2% of the total. The rest of the top-five sending countries are India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Canada.
  • In 2015-16, Saudi Arabia was ranked number three, but its numbers fell by 14.2% and 15.5% in the next two years.
  • The number of US students studying abroad grew by 2.3% in 2016-17, reaching 332,727, which means that about 1 in 10 American students study abroad as undergraduates.
  • US study-abroad students who identify as racial or ethnic minorities represented 29.2% of the total. This is a significant increase over the 17% of 2005-06.
  • The top five countries receiving US students are the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, and Germany. China held the fifth spot in 2014-15, but dropped to sixth for the two years following.

For a good analysis of the reasons for the decline in new international students, read The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s “Is the ‘Trump Effect’ Scaring Away Prospective International Students?” In short, citing the Institute of International Education and the U.S. State Department, the author says that the drop is due to more than presidential rhetoric and policies. Instead, he points to increasing higher-education costs in the US, diminished funding from government programs in other countries that help send students abroad, and increased competition from other countries attracting international students to their schools.

Hmmmmm. I wonder if those other countries are doing a better job of inviting international students into their homes.

(Leiton Chinn, “Making Room at Your Table for Interventional Students,” The Exchange, Christianity Today, November 9, 2018; Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, Institute of International Education, 2018; Vimal Patel, “Is the ‘Trump Effect’ Scaring Away Prospective International Students?” The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 13, 2018)

[photo: “International Student Festival 2012,” by Illinois Springfield, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Reverse Culture Shock: What It Looks Like from Between

February 14, 2015 § Leave a comment

If you were to draw a picture of reverse culture shock, what would it look like? What images would you show? What colors would you use?

If you were to make a video, what kind of video would it be?

30a781c45c859eecc26383ae27dc0c2aPhotographer and visual artist Jenna Rutanen was born in Finland, attended university in London, and now is continuing her studies and working in the Netherlands. She has turned her experience in crossing cultures into an art installation, consisting of two videos projected on opposite walls of a room. She calls it “Waiting to Belong,” and here’s how she describes what she is representing:

I am experiencing reverse culture shock during each visit to my home country, Finland. In the past, all the winters that I had spent in some sort of hibernation, would now start to suffocate me because of the darkness. As a child, I spent my time playing in the forests, making tree houses and snow castles but now I can hardly venture going into the forest on my own after being away from it for such a long time. It seems as if I have lost the ability to adapt to the surroundings that I used to belong in and as of yet, I haven’t been able to adapt to my current surroundings either, which has kind of left me stuck between two different worlds. All I can do is wait to belong.

Installation art often seems pretentious to me, and this may strike you that way. You may say, “I could have done that.” You may wonder why Rutanen in her “portrait” is so glum. You may wonder what the big deal is.

But watching the two videos of “Waiting to Belong” is very thought provoking to me, and I think it would be even more interesting if I could stand between them, turning from one to the other.

It’s the anticipation—and tedium—of waiting for something to happen, and (spoiler alert, if you haven’t watched the videos yet) nothing does. That’s one of the things that makes reverse culture shock difficult. It’s the nomad gazing at the horizon, waiting for herself to adapt or for her surroundings to become more accommodating, or waiting for both to re-become what they used to be. And it’s the pale landscape waiting itself, staring back at a daughter who has returned a stranger. It seems to say, “I am what I am. It’s up to you.”

These are frustrating feelings to have. And if you become impatient watching the videos, maybe that’s part of the point.

(Jenna Rutanen, “Artist Statement: Waiting to Belong,” jennarutanen.com)

[illustration from Bechance, at bechance.net, used under a Creative Commons license]

Translating Overseas Experience into a Successful Resumé

January 11, 2015 § 10 Comments

7695987818_6c5443289c_zLived overseas?

You’ve been there, done that, and designed and marketed the t-shirt. But how can that get you a job now that you’re back?

The key is articulating your transferrable skills.

“It is simply not enough to seek an international experience—the experience itself has little value for an employer,” writes Cheryl Matherly, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs for Career Services, Scholarships, and Fellowships at Rice University. “The savvy job seeker must be able to speak about this experience in terms of the transferable skills that he or she developed while abroad and how they can be applied to the workplace.”

While Matherly’s comments are aimed at students who study abroad, they apply to anyone who has spent time living in another country. And when she says that selling one’s international experience “can be an enormous challenge,” that caution fits non-students, too.

It can be difficult to find new employment when returning to your passport country. Not only can you be out of the loop when it comes to networking, but many employers don’t see living overseas as a plus—and some see it as a negative.

It’s up to you to show employers how your cross-cultural experience has added to your skills portfolio, in ways that they may not have considered. In fact, your experiences may have have benefited you in ways that you yourself haven’t considered.

To help, I’ve pulled together several lists, from various sources, of job skills and qualities that can be gained from living outside your passport country. They’re not guaranteed, so you may not have them all. But neither are they all-inclusive, so consider this a jumpstart for creating your own list.

First, Matherly says that students should be able to share experiences showing their ability to

  • Creatively solve problems by applying familiar concepts to unfamiliar situations
  • Contribute to an ethnically diverse team
  • Be self-confident, yet able to listen and learn from people whose value systems are different
  • Take personal risks and act independently
  • Be flexible and adaptable to rapidly changing situations
  • Have a basic command of the local language, and be able use it in practical situations
  • Imagine, forecast, analyze or address business situations from a different cultural frame of reference.

(Cheryl Matherly, “Effective Marketing of International Experiences to Employers,” Impact of Education Abroad on Career Development, Volume 1, Martin Tillman, editor, American Institute for Foreign Study, 2005)

Researchers at Michigan State University found that the following traits were chosen by 35% or more of responding employers as “where recent hires with international experience stood out.”

  • Interacting with people who hold different interests, values, or perspectives
  • Understanding cultural differences in the workplace
  • Adapting to situations of change
  • Gaining new knowledge from experiences
  • Ability to work independently
  • Undertaking tasks that are unfamiliar/risky
  • Applying information in new or broader contexts
  • Identifying new problems/solutions to problems
  • Working effectively with co-workers

(Phil Gardner, Linda Gross, and Inge Stieglitz, “Unpacking Your Study Abroad Experience: Critical Reflection for Workplace Competencies,” Collegiate Employment Research Institute, Michigan State University, March 2008)

The Learning Abroad Center at the University of Minnesota offers this list of “skills that professionals with international experience cite as being particularly useful in their careers.”

  • Enhanced cultural awareness and sensitivity to customs and cultural differences
  • Foreign language proficiency
  • Adaptability
  • Ability to identify and achieve goals
  • General improvement in communications skills
  • Increased confidence, initiative, and independence
  • Greater flexibility and sense of humor
  • Awareness of global economic and political issues and realities
  • Ability to maintain an open mind and be tolerant of others
  • Clarification of goals and improved self-awareness
  • General travel skills
  • Resource management
  • Organization
  • Problem solving and crisis management
  • Patience
  • Listening and observation
  • Specific professional skills or knowledge base

(Resumé Tips, Learning Abroad Center, University of Minnesota)

When some question the value of overseas work experience, Graduate Prospects, offers “a whole host of benefits that these doubters seem to have failed to consider.”

  • Culture and community – working abroad shows your desire to get stuck in and work alongside local people, rather than stand back and take in the culture from afar while you drift through the country as a tourist.
  • Sink or swim – demonstrate to potential employers that you can cope in a multicultural, multilingual working environment and produce great work in the process. Even if you go to work in an English-speaking country, employers will see that you can rise to the challenge and succeed despite being out of your comfort zone, away from your friends and family.
  • Language skills – these are hugely valuable to employers and spending time abroad and working alongside non-English speakers will help them improve. Remember, though, that languages are most valuable alongside another specialism, so don’t pin all your hopes of employment on your new-found linguistic finesse.
  • Get up and go – moving abroad and finding work experience shows motivation, independence, maturity and adaptability – all extra ticks on your job application forms.
  • Travel – this is usually a secondary motive for many people, but it is quite a nice bonus.

(“Work Experience and Internships: Experience Abroad,” Prospects)

And at StudyAbroad.com, Martin Tillman suggests that job seekers “may want to think of concrete examples from your experience abroad that demonstrate your development of some of these characteristics:”

  • Independence/Self-reliance
  • Self-knowledge
  • Self-confidence
  • Flexibility
  • Perseverance
  • Ability to cope with stress, rejection
  • Assertiveness
  • Inquisitiveness
  • Awareness of lifestyle choices and global consequences
  • Adaptability to new environments
  • Appreciation for diversity
  • Ability to establish rapport quickly
  • Open-mindedness
  • Understanding and appreciation of other perspectives
  • Suspend judgment about people and their actions
  • Concern/knowledge of international issues and politics
  • Learn quickly
  • Greater focus on career interests
  • Handle difficult situations
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Function with a high level of ambiguity
  • Achieve goals despite obstacles
  • Take initiatives and risks
  • Communicate despite barriers
  • Learn through listening and observing
  • Time management skills

(Martin Tillman, “Effective Marketing of Your Study Abroad Experience to Employers,” StudyAbroad.com, February 4, 2014)

Did you know you had so much going for you?

Welcome back, and happy job hunting.

[photo: “Vintage Leather Suitcase w Travel Stickers,” by Lynn Friedman, used under a Creative Commons license]

15-Year Look Back Shows Big Changes in International Student Population in US

November 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

iew_2014_logos_0Over the past 15 years, substantial changes have occurred to the landscape of international students on US university campuses.

According to data released today by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in the 2014 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, since 1999/2000, the number of international students in the US has increased by 72%, to an all-time high in 2013/14 of 886,052.

Since statistics have been collected by IIE, starting in 1948, the number of international students has increased each year, except for 1971/72 and from 2003 to 2006. The growth for the past school year of 8.1% is the largest percentage increase since 1980/81.

The top country for sending students to the US has been China over the past 15 years, with its share of total international students growing from 11% to 31%. But the rest of the top ten has seen significant shuffling.

In 1999/2000, the number-two country was Japan. Since then, their numbers have dropped by 59%, moving them down to 7th place. India, South Korea, and Canada have each moved up one spot, landing them at 2nd, 3rd, and 5th, respectively.

The countries making the biggest jumps over the past 15 years, moving into the top ten, are Saudi Arabia (from 21st to 4th), Vietnam (43rd to 8th), and Brazil (13th to 10th).

Taiwan has dropped from 5th to 6th; Mexico has held steady at 9th; and Indonesia, Thailand, and Turkey have fallen out of the top ten.

Other changes over the past 15 years are

  • The contribution of international students to the US economy has grown from $9 billion to $27 billion.
  • In 2000, schools hosting 1,000 or more internationals numbered 135. Now there are 231.
  • The majority (2/3) of international students are supported primarily by family or personal funds, but the proportion of those funded by their governments has tripled.

International education, says Evan M. Ryan, assistant secretary of state for Education and Cultural Affairs, is a key part of meeting today’s global challenges:

International education is crucial to building relationships between people and communities in the United States and around the world. It is through these relationships that together we can solve global challenges like climate change, the spread of pandemic disease, and combatting violent extremism. We also need to expand access to international education for students from more diverse backgrounds, in more diverse locations of study, getting more diverse types of degrees. Only by engaging multiple perspectives within our societies can we all reap the numerous benefits of international education—increased global competence, self-awareness and resiliency, and the ability to compete in the 21st century economy.

The fifteen-year data was compiled in conjunction with this year’s 15th anniversary of International Education Week (November 17-21), a celebration initiative by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Education.

(“Top 25 Places of Origin of International Students, 2012/13-2013/14,” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, Institute of International Education, 2014; “Top 25 Places of Origin of International Students, 1999/00-2000/01,” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, Institute of International Education, 2014)

Watching “The Dialogue”: A Cultural Bumper-Car Ride

October 5, 2014 § 2 Comments

15946836_a846e28a57_zCulture Shock.

“It’s like you’re driving in a car,” says one of the students in The Dialogue, “and the gas and the brakes switch.”

The Dialogue is German director Arnd Wächter’s feature documentary that follows eight college students traveling to Hong Kong and southwest China. As they interact with the world around them and interact with each other, they explore cultural differences and the way we communicate about those differences.

The students make up a rather diverse group: males, females, Americans seeing China for the first time, Chinese returning home, whites, an African American, and an Asian raised in the US . . . and their viewpoints are varied as well.

I got to watch The Dialogue at a screening held at the San Diego NAFSA conference in May. It was a great conference, and seeing the documentary and taking part in the discussion with Wachter afterward was a highlight for me.

My experience watching the film was—to borrow the student’s words—like driving in a car. But for me it was a bumper car. At several times throughout the documentary, I would identify with one of the students, but then something would happen to change my view: I look like him, but I don’t agree with what he just said. I agree with her, but then she went too far. I share her background, but what he said makes more sense. I identify with him, but I don’t think he’d identify with me.

My point of view kept bouncing from person to person, even country to country. It was jarring, but enjoyable. Thus the bumper-car ride. I liked the way it challenged me to think beyond stereotypes and easy answers. And that, getting viewers to think, is what Wachter’s Crossing Border Films and Michigan State University had in mind when they made the film. It’s what would make The Dialogue a great tool for cross-cultural training exercises.

The key to the documentary is the frank conversations that the students have on camera. And the key to these conversations is the work of facilitator Ana Rhodes Castro. She led the students through behind-the-scenes activities and debriefings that encouraged them to express their true feelings and talk about root issues. The result is on-camera interactions that get straight to the point and reveal topics and opinions that are normally skirted in everyday life.

Particularly interesting are discussions of how individual personalities, non-verbal communication, surroundings, and language affect how we offer and receive viewpoints. How often does the way people present themselves affect how we judge what they say? How do our expectations for non-verbal cues differ from culture to culture? Does the fact that the film’s discussions take place in China give the Chinese a disadvantage? And does using English as the mode of communication give an advantage to the native speakers?

There’s a partner education site at National Geographic that addresses these issues using clips from The Dialogue. The site also includes questions for discussion and additional resources for use in the classroom.

The Dialogue, along with two other Wachter productions, is part of a trilogy of cross-cultural films. The others are Crossing Borders, which follows the same model as The Dialogue, but this time with four Moroccan and four American students traveling to Morocco, and American Textures, which listens in on the discussions of six young Americans—Latino, Caucasian, and African-American—as they travel to three cities in the southeast United States and talk about race, class, and culture.

[photo: “Bumper Cars,” by Bill Frazzetto, used under a Creative Commons license]

Two Who Help International Students in Small Ways That Turn Out to Be Very Big

March 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’m going to brag on a couple friends of mine. Both of them are shining examples of devoted service to the international students who come to our communities. Both of them live in small cities in the Midwest: one in Pittsburg, Kansas, and the other in Joplin, Missouri. And while they are content to serve in quiet ways, each has recently been highlighted in local media.

Helping Students Get Around . . . on Two Wheels

1653027386_4dba5e754a_qFor over three decades, Don Smith—through Campus Christians—has been ministering to the students at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. Throughout that time, more and more of those students have come from other countries.

In fact, today, a significant part of Don’s work is collecting, repairing, and distributing bicycles to the more than 450 international students at PSU. It was this bicycle ministry that caught the attention of The Joplin Globe, which ran a story about him.

Don told The Globe that he got the idea to loan bikes to international students 30 years ago, when he saw a similar program at the University of Missouri. That story means something to me, as I was a student at MU 30 years ago, living at the Christian Campus House, the place where Don got his inspiration. A few years later, I became the campus minister to inernationals at CCH and took over the bike ministry. But Don’s efforts go well beyond anything that I was able to do.

One of the first lessons he learned was how to keep bikes in the program. It was easy to give bicycles out. “But the first year,” Don told The Globe, “not one bike came back. Not one.”

The solution came in two parts: using stronger locks and charging a deposit of $35, which is refunded when the bike is returned. That’s increased the return rate to about 75%.

Since the beginning of July, Don has distributed 200 bikes. And as word has gotten around, American students are taking advantage of the ministry as well.

Word certainly has gotten around, not only about the bikes but about all the work that Don is doing. Two years ago, he received the Ralf J. Thomas Distinguished Service Award from PSU, and last month he and his wife were honored by Ozark Christian College, their alma mater, with the Seth Wilson Outstanding Alumnus Award.

(Andra Bryan Stefanoni, “Have Bike, Will Travel: Campus Minister Provides Wheels to Students,” The Joplin Globe, February 14, 2014)

A Mom to Many

2956042901_4e983192a0_q“Mom.” That’s what scores of international students at Joplin’s Missouri Southern State University call Linda Keifer. For nine years, she and her husband, Jerry, have invited guest from around the world into their home.

“It started with a few, and then they invited their friends,” Linda told The Chart, Missouri Southern’s student newspaper. “This is what God wanted us to do.”

Several students also shared in the article what they liked about being part of the Keifers’ extended “family”:

“It’s family Sunday: to eat, relax, listen to each other, to talk about worries, hopes, dreams and wishes,” said Stephanie Kiessling from Germany. “They are sharing the American tradition and the international students [are] sharing theirs as well.”

And Lei Lei, from China, said, “When I speak to them, I feel like I’m talking to a genuine mother and father. They make me feel appreciated, welcomed, and at home.”

Linda’s ministry came full circle last year when she and Jerry traveled to Asia, becoming the guests and receiving hospitality from the students and their families.

Being part of a family means sharing in the highs and lows. So when Linda was diagnosed with colon cancer last year, the students gathered around the Keifers and comforted them. That comfort has continued as Linda has gone through surgery and receives treatment.

Just a few weeks ago, Jerry told me how much the students’ kindness has meant to them. That’s often the way it is: When we reach out to help others, we often receive as much, if not more, than we give.

(Xiaoyu “Jamie” Wu, “Mom Opens Home to Students,” The Chart, October 31, 2013)

Don and Linda wouldn’t meet a strict definition of “globally famous,” but that doesn’t mean they haven’t gained international fame, at least among those who have been touched by their simple generosity, by those who call them friends . . . and sometimes “Mom” or “Dad.”

[photos: “Bicycle,” by JMC Photos, used under a Creative Commons license; “Door Knob,” by zizzybaloobah, used under a Creative Commons license]

International Students—They Come to Study but Do They Stay?

January 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Moscow State University’s main building

Russia wants its future scientists, teachers, engineers, and medical personnel to attend the world’s top graduate schools. In fact, reports the Russian-language Begin, they want it so much that the government is offering to subsidize the cost. The program, recently signed into effect by President Vladimir Putin, aims to send out about 1,000 students a year, each with an average yearly grant of 1.5 million rubles (about US$44,000).

But there’s a catch. The students must return and work in Russia for three years, or they will have to pay back the grant plus a 200% fine.

This is just one salvo in the battle for bright young minds that’s going on around the globe. Sending countries, like Russia, are worried about “brain drain,” so they want their citizens to come back with their new-found knowledge and training. And their worries aren’t unfounded, as host countries are striving to increase “stay rates,” wanting the visiting students to make themselves at home and stick around for good.

No Need to Rush Off

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), made up of 34 countries, the average stay rate for international students is 25%. Here, “staying” is defined as foreign nationals’ changing their visa status to something other than “student,” as opposed to not renewing their student permits and leaving.

Using data from 2008 and 2009, OECD further reports that in most member countries, over 20% of visiting students remain in their host countries. In Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, and France, the stay rate is over 30%.

In the US, an OECD-member country, the rates among those receiving doctorates in science and technology is much higher. Michael Finn, of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, writes that in 2007, the one-year stay rate (counting 2006 graduates) for those in this group was 73%. The two-year stay rate was 67%; the five-year rate was 62%; and the 10-year rate was 60%. Finn’s study shows that the five sending countries with the highest five-year stay rates were China, India, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Ukraine.

Why are countries striving to increase their stay rates? One reason is economics. The ICEF Monitor reports on a study from the Netherlands showing that if 20% of their international student population (more than 58,000, compared to 819,000 in the US) stays, it would help the economy by about €740 million (approximately US$1 billion). But the immigration of foreign graduates also helps in “the development of competitive knowledge economies.” This is especially important in developed countries, which have mismatches of jobs and skills and where low birth rates are producing aging populations.

Brain Drain vs Brain Gain

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Harvard’s Memorial Hall

As the competition to attract and keep the world’s scholars heats up, countries around the globe are loosening immigration restrictions to allow more international students to stay after graduation. This is especially true for graduates in the highly prized STEM fields: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

The US is no exception, with plans to attract foreign-born STEM graduates as a significant factor in several current immigration-reform proposals. For instance, President Barack Obama’s plan calls for giving a green card to PhD and master’s degree graduates in STEM fields who find work in the US. He calls it “stapling” green cards to their diplomas. In January of last year, the president described the goal this way:

If you’re a foreign student who wants to pursue a career in science or technology, or a foreign entrepreneur who wants to start a business with the backing of American investors, we should help you do that here. Because if you succeed, you’ll create American businesses and American jobs. You’ll help us grow our economy. You’ll help us strengthen our middle class.

Sounds like one more thing for Putin and Obama to spar over.

(Sergey Titov and Gregory Milov, [Google translation of Russian article] “The State Is Ready to Pay for Training Russians in Foreign Universities,” Begin, January 14, 2014; “How Is International Student Mobility Shaping Up,” Education Indicators in Focus, OECD, July, 2013; Michael G. Finn, “Stay Rates of Foreign Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, 2007,” Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, January 2010; “Increasing the ‘Stay Rate’ of International Students,” ICEF Monitor, May 30, 2013; “Creating an Immigration System for the 21st Century,” The White House)

[photos: “Moscow State University,” by Steve Jurvetson, used under a Creative Commons license; “Harvard University – Memorial Hall,” by Chen Yen Lai, used under a Creative Commons license]

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