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A Warm Welcome for International Students Arriving on Campus

Although they have different needs, both undergraduate and graduate students receive support to transition from their home countries to their lives as Duke students.

Undergraduate students, their family members, and International House staff sit together at a table as they enjoy a family-style dinner.
This past October, for Family Weekend, undergraduate students and their family members were invited to a dinner at the International House to share with the global community of Duke parents.

DURHAM, N.C. – Settling in with a roommate and adjusting to a new campus and city are just a couple of the hurdles new students face at the beginning of the academic year. International students usually add to that list opening a bank account, acquiring a phone line and managing immigration-related processes before even beginning to think about finding the required textbooks for their classes.

A number of Duke programs and offices work every year to help new international students adjust to American academic norms as well as life at Duke and in Durham. Duke’s International House is a central resource for all Duke students, and hosts an annual series of orientation events specifically for international students. The events help students meet classmates, become acquainted with campus, and also address practical needs like setting up bank accounts and local phone numbers. This year, undergraduate students’ parents also had the chance to be part of some of the activities and learn how their sons and daughters are being supported while they are at Duke. 

“This year, we had family members of international undergraduates meet in the Student Wellness Center for the first day of their orientation,” said Lisa Giragosian, director of Duke’s International House. “There they had the opportunity to tour the new building as well as interact with many of the staff based there – from the Student Health to the CAPS to DuWell. This experience was very reassuring to parents.” 

The welcome activities supplement other events that International House organizes throughout the year, ranging from weekly informal gatherings that bring together international students, scholars, exchange students and their spouses to conversation clubs in Spanish, English and Chinese. The International House Orientation Peer (IHOP) program pairs returning students with new students to help them make a smooth transition to life at Duke. This service is offered to undergraduate and graduate international students.

Engineering success for international students

Although the academic year traditionally begins in August, Bridget Fletcher, associate director of program development for professional master’s programs at the Pratt School of Engineering, begins working with newly admitted students in early April, using assessments of their English-language skills via Skype interviews to determine whether students would benefit from additional language training.

This is just the beginning of Pratt’s efforts to help international students feel at home, which also include weekly conversational and cultural acclimations classes as well as regular seminars and workshops to help students learn about and adjust to American cultural and academic norms. The workshops also encourage students to share elements of their own cultures with fellow students. “The weekly conversational and cultural acclimations courses are especially useful. I think it really helps the students to feel like, at least once a week, they have a place that they can go and they can ask all of the questions that they have accumulated during the week,” said Fletcher.

But Fletcher’s work is not limited to Durham. Each year, she and a colleague travel to China and India -- the countries the majority of Pratt’s international students come from -- to meet incoming students and connect them with each other and program alumni, and to identify and address students’ questions and concerns about their arrival and adjustment to being in the United States. 

“Duke is extremely inclusive and welcoming of international students. Bridget’s visit in the summer was our first real interaction with Duke. Bridget and her colleague spoke about the courses in general and more importantly ensured us how valuable the international students are as a part of the Duke community. They acknowledged our concerns regarding the current situation in the US, and reinforced that Duke stands by its international students,” said Angad Ozarkar, who comes from India and is in the Master in Engineering Management program.

Professional and personal development support 

The Graduate School offers seminars and workshops specifically designed for international graduate students. Recent workshops have included a panel discussion with international STEM faculty living in the U.S., as well as sessions focused on preparing for roles in corporate America, and presenting research within the U.S. industry setting.

Each semester more than 300 graduate students also take courses through the Graduate School’s English for International Students (EIE) program. These courses help students strengthen their oral and written communications and academic presentation skills, and aid them in preparing to teach in the American academic environment.

The Fuqua School of Business has been traditionally recognized for its vibrant community of international students. Throughout the years, the school has worked on a series of programs to make this group of students welcome at Duke.

“Our Culture and Language Immersion program and the International Student Bootcamp provide a bit of an on-ramp to studying in the U.S. and we allow international students a little time to acclimate before being fully immersed in our academic program,” said Russ Morgan, senior associate dean for full-time programs, noting that Fuqua honors its international students’ backgrounds throughout the year. 

"Fuqua strongly values difference and meaningfully feels we have much to learn from each other. We have many clubs run by students that celebrate various regions of the world and help educate our community about the food, traditions, and other aspects of various countries and regions," added Morgan