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To Connect With Students 7,000 Miles Away, Duke Turns to IHOPs

Student advisers help create communities among students forced by pandemic into learning from abroad

The International House building
International House on Alexander Avenue

How do you show students 7,000 miles away that they are a vital part of the Duke community? For Duke’s International House, the answer for the fall of 2020 was to enlist undergraduate and graduate volunteers called International House Orientation Peers — or IHOPs — to welcome new students to Duke.

This was no small undertaking. Close to 3,000 international students from around the world are attending Duke this year, with more than 500 of them doing their coursework remotely from outside the United States.

Working with teams of IHOPs, IHouse staff often used in-country social media outlets to distribute information on Duke and advertise their many pre-semester virtual get-togethers. Their programs in July and August combined peer-to-peer social opportunities with academic and extracurricular advice.

As in past years, IHouse coordinated with the New Student Programs office in Student Affairs to ensure there was little overlap in scheduling or content for regular orientation. Throughout these many outreach activities, IHOP volunteers — many of whom are studying remotely themselves — served as peer advisers and hosts.

Ling Jin, who is the student development coordinator for IHouse and responsible for graduate student orientation, said she was grateful for their participation. “IHOPs took the lead and many volunteered to host multiple events so that students on the other side of the world would feel welcome and have someone available to answer their questions,” she said.

Jin’s team of graduate student IHOP volunteers also wrote letters of welcome to new students, participated in virtual Q&A sessions and organized online networking opportunities to replace traditional in-person events.

International House associate director Esra Uzun Mason also relied on her IHOP team to educate first years on what to expect as a Duke student. After receiving training in leadership skills, cross-cultural communications and conflict resolution, the undergraduate IHOPs helped plan activities and the orientation schedule, analyzed prior year program evaluations and assembled panels of older students to share their experiences and advice.

Topics covered included advice on making the transition to online learning, common challenges to expect as a new student and where to find resources to enhance the Duke experience. All of these opportunities also offered a way for international students to make new friends.

“Our orientation week was a really good way to connect students who may come from different backgrounds, countries and expectations.” Mason said. “Our IHOPs deserve a lot of the credit for the success of this year's efforts.”

Both groups will continue sponsoring virtual events throughout the semester so students can connect to their peers and get answers to their ongoing questions. For example, one popular weekly event at International House continues despite the pandemic: the Global Café has gone virtual and is held every Friday morning at 10:00 a.m. EST via Zoom.

As always, the Cafe is open to the entire Duke community, including students, employees, post-docs, scholars and families. "It's just to get together and relax,” Mason said. “We would love to have more people join us.”