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International Students on Campus Benefit Their U.S. Classmates

International Students on Campus Benefit Their U.S. Classmates

Study finds the payoff extending far beyond cultural awareness and long after graduation

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Thai-born foreign student Nadia Estelle-Fiat, second from left in front, with friends. A study shows that US. students who engage with international students learn more and develop skills that benefit them after graduation.

Durham, NC - As the number of international students on U.S. college campuses continues to grow, their American classmates who actively interact with them are not only learning about foreign cultures but also enhancing their own self-confidence, leadership, quantitative skills and other abilities long after they graduate, according to a new Duke University study of alumni from several universities.

Americans who engaged with international students while on campus are more likely in later life to appreciate art and literature, place current problems in historical perspective and read or speak a foreign language. They also are more likely to reexamine their political and religious viewpoints and their beliefs about other races or ethnicities, according to the research. The findings apply to U.S. students who actively interacted with international students in classes, dorms or elsewhere, as opposed to just sharing the campus with them.

"Examining the Educational Benefits of Interacting with International Students" appears in the June issue of the Journal of International Students. Authors Jiali Luo and David Jamieson-Drake, the assistant director and director of Duke's institutional research office, analyzed surveys of 5,676 alumni from the 1985, 1995 and 2000 graduating classes of four highly selective private research universities, administered roughly 5, 10 and 20 years after graduation.

U.S. students at these universities interacted more with international students than they did in the past, they found, with 79 percent of the 2000 graduates reporting "substantial" interactions compared with 67 percent among 1985 graduates. In part, this reflected the growing presence of international students on their and other campuses. According to another study cited in the report, the number of international students in the United States reached an all-time high of 764,495 in the 2011-12 academic year, rising 31 percent over the previous decade.

"Several studies have shown how international students benefit from their time on American campuses, and also how they contribute financially to the schools and the U.S. economy," Luo said. "However, our study is among the first to provide statistically significant data showing how they also enhance the intellectual and cultural environment for domestic students who interact with them, many of whom go on to graduate with a richer world view and set of life skills."

Luo and Jamieson-Drake say the data highlight the value to U.S. universities and students of welcoming international students and encouraging their interaction with the wider student body. "A larger number of international students on campus could provide more opportunities for domestic students to interact across cultures and challenge their existing belief and value systems," they write. "Institutional initiatives and structures that foster higher levels of international interaction and serious questioning of beliefs and values could ultimately influence students' intellectual growth and skill development not only substantially but also consistently."

Jamieson-Drake said he and Luo are now "extending the study longitudinally to track alumni for up to 20 years after graduation to see how their interactions with international students while in college may have affected their careers, public service and priorities in the long run." They also hope to analyze how these outcomes compare with those for U.S. students who participate in "study abroad" programs.

CITATION: "Examining the Educational Benefits of Interacting with International Students," Jiali Luo, David Jamieson-Drake. Journal of International Students, June 2013.

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