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Students from around the world study in country music program

By Callan Gray, cgray@wcyb.com
Published On: Nov 18 2013 04:23:35 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 17 2013 04:16:31 PM CST

There are more international students at East Tennessee State University than ever before.

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. -

There are more international students at East Tennessee State University than ever before.  

ETSU told us students have come from 68 different countries to study there this year.

We sat down with an ETSU country music student originally from Iran to find out why so many students are coming to Northeast Tennessee.

Erfan Rezayatbakhsh is the first Iranian country music student at ETSU. He told us he didn't hear a lot of country music until he got a CD of it for his sixteenth birthday. "It was '101 Country Music Songs'," he said. "Mostly classics like Merle Haggard, Charley Pride songs, The Pioneers, old stuff. That was it."

Rezayatbakhsh told us he started the first country music band in Iran in 2007.

Approximately 12 years after he got that CD, he found out about the ETSU Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music program. He told us stumbled across it while looking for country music festivals online. He's now in his second semester at ETSU.

Rezayatbakhsh is one of 400 international students at ETSU and part of a growing trend.

The most recent data from the U.S. Department of State shows there were 55,000 more international students in the U.S. in 2012 than the previous year.

The U.S. Department of State study shows that is 40 percent more than a decade ago. "They're looking for stronger science programs, better university, better teachers," said Rezayatbakhsh.

He told us his biggest challenge since getting to the U.S. has been financial issues. He said international students can't get jobs off campus.

We looked at visa requirements on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website and learned that international students are required to study in the U.S. for a year before they can work off-campus.

Rezayatbakhsh came to the U.S. in December of 2012.

The restriction isn't keeping international students out of the U.S. economy. International students added $24 billion to the economy last year, according to the Department of State.

Rezayatbakhsh told us he uses his free time to focus on music, not shopping, so that he can become a singer-songwriter. "This is what I really love," he said.

Monday is the first day of International Education Week, a national event. ETSU told us they will have events all week to celebrate.