Campus Life newsletter, Nov '19: 2020...a year of assessment

Author name
Lisa Giragosian, Director, International House

2020...a year of assessment

Last year I was leafing through the International Educator, my professional association’s monthly magazine. My eye gravitated toward an article titled, “Supporting International Students on U.S. Campuses.” Upon reading the article I thought it did not provide much new information. Most of what was shared was known to me. But upon second read, I realized that there was a lot to be gained from the piece. And I was too quick to rush to judgment.

New students and visiting international students meet with International Association co-presidents on the front porch of the IHouse in the summer
New students and visiting international students meet with International Association co-presidents, seniors Paulina Guerra Schleske (Mexico) and Shyam Pradheep (Oman), Sunday August 25, 2019. Photo taken by Ling Jin.

For starters the article stated, “Schools should invest the time to engage in assessment, in order to better understand the needs of international students with their particular environment.” [Hulstrand, Janet. "Supporting International Students on U.S. Campuses" International Educator May & June 2018: 45] Certainly we at IHouse are assessing all of our orientations and almost all of our programs. But what about actual international student life, student experiences as a whole? In 2020 International House will embark on a year of assessment not only for the center but also to examine our students’ experiences. It is not a simple task. Dulce Dorado, director of the International Students & Programs Office at the University of California, San Diego, shared, “It is important to recognize the unique backgrounds and cultures that our students bring to our campus. There may be a tendency to overgeneralize the international student experience and to expect existing campus services and programs to meet all of their needs.” [Hulstrand, 44] It should be noted that UCSD is a campus where international students make up 23% of the student body.

The article woke me up to the fact that assessment has the possibility to show how stakeholder priorities may differ. “What we have learned in the [assessment]process is that the perspective of international students and the perspective to those who serve them are not always the same.” [Hulstrand, 45] A Duke related example is international early move-in. I thought we did a stellar job of welcoming new first-years to campus with welcome packets and hearty hello. Why, as an old-timer, I remember the days when students had to stay in a hotel till official move in day. Surely things were better from that time period. There was little to improve on our end. But a recent student survey of Duke international undergraduate community demonstrated how disappointed students were with their move in welcome, how lonely it is in the residence hall, and how a candy bar got a few of them through their first night. Based on this feedback we had to re-examine our priorities. In consultation with New Student Programs & Housing & Res Life, Esra Uzun Mason made a number of changes to the move in experience. She created an East Campus Welcome with Duke colleagues and the orientation leaders meeting and greeting new first-years. Faculty-in-Residence and Academic Advisors attended the Friday evening dinner of pre-orientation. Cold drinks and snacks were available to all.

students with maroon IHOP tshirts doing lawn work as part of a service project
Service learning project during Community Engagement Program, Saturday August 17, 2019, part of the International Undergraduate Orientation

We at International House are partial to focus groups. Currently Esra Uzun Mason conducts a focus group of first-year students, asking them to reflect on their first 60-90 days at Duke. In addition Esra set up a focus group with the Visiting International Students in collaboration with Office of Global Education and New Student Programs. This was a first. Additionally, it has been strongly suggested to us that we conduct focus groups with all four class years in future, not just the first-years. Whatever the future holds, we certainly do not want to overgeneralize the international student experience here at Duke!


Stay tuned for future articles around particular international student concerns, the growth of international student numbers, ways to welcome DKU students and more!