The Global Education Office is partnering with DukeEngage on a dinner series allowing students returning from study-abroad or DukeEngage programs to reflect on their experiences. The Chronicle’s Nidhila Masha interviewed Carolyn Covalt and Abigail Grubbs—program coordinators for the Global Education Office for Undergraduates—and Meredith Casper, the assistant director for training and student development at Duke Engage. They discussed the reasons for the dinner series and difficulties students face re-adjusting to life on campus. 

The Chronicle: What inspired you to begin organizing these sessions?

Carolyn Covalt, Abigail Grubbs and Meredith Casper: The GEO and DukeEngage decided to collaborate to create this dinner series with a variety of campus partners and experts, hoping to address the many challenges students have in integrating their time away once they are back on campus. We hope that the dinners provide returning students with the opportunity to reflect on their experiences, while also providing some structure in a small, intimate setting.

TC: What do you hope students will take away from these sessions?

CC, AG, MC: This greatly depends on which dinner a student attends, but overall our goal is for students to reflect, to think critically and to begin to articulate how their experience away connects to their Duke education, as well as to their life beyond Duke.

TC: Why has the Career Center chosen to do dinners instead of regular meetings?

CC, AG, MC: The Career Center is only one of the campus partners that we chose to invite to participate in one of these dinners; the career–focused dinner is not meant to replace appointments with the Career Center. Rather, it is one of the themes that we have chosen to focus on in a group setting, hoping that students might learn from each others' experiences. We still encourage all students, even those who attend the career–focused dinner, to make individual appointments with the Career Center.

TC: What problems do students face when they first get back to Duke?

CC, AG, MC: This, again, depends on the individual student, but is one of the reasons that we created the dinner series–to explore this question! Many students do feel overwhelmed, but what we have heard the most is that students want to reflect upon their time away with peers, as well as with campus mentors, but don’t often feel that they have the time or space to do so. Also, we hear that students find that connecting their experiences away with academics as well as with future opportunities is a real challenge.

TC: Do students returning from Duke Engage compared to students returning from abroad bring different insights to the table? And, if so, how does this impact the dynamic of the dinners?

CC, AG, MC: Many students have actually done both, and while there are some differences between a GEO program experience and a DukeEngage experience, we don’t really focus on those differences during our  events. Honestly, there are as many differences among GEO programs and among DukeEngage programs as there are differences between the two.