International students have spoken out in the past about the unique struggles they face, and now Duke is moving forward on initiatives to address those concerns.

Previously, international students noted that Duke could do more to provide tailored support in their academic careers and their job searches. A survey conducted by the Duke International Association in 2016 found that job prospects was ranked as international students’ biggest concern while at Duke, followed by worries about academics, campus life and financial aid.

This year, Student Affairs, Duke Visa Services, the Career Center and the International Association are working together to provide more effective assistance for international students. 

New initiatives

The International House will begin holding weekly office hours on West Campus for accessibility. The previous location of the office hours on Alexander Avenue deterred some students from attending. 

Senior Altamash Rafiq, co-president of the International Association, said he is pleased by the introduction of these office hours.

"Usually, there is information that internationals need which they are more comfortable asking in person, and the International House trip dissuaded a lot of people—I know it dissuaded me," he said.

In addition, Duke formed the International Student Experience Task Force this summer at the request of Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, explained Li-Chen Chin, assistant vice president for intercultural programs. 

Intended to examine and improve the overall experience of international undergraduates at Duke, the task force is slated to begin meeting on a biweekly basis later this month. Chin chairs the task force, which also comprises representatives from several Student Affairs units.

"I expect that we will obtain and review data, reports and research literature as well as hear from students directly in order to inform our understanding of the international students' experiences," Chin said. 

The task force is expected to provide a report by January 2018.

Career support

To better address international students' career-related concerns, the Career Center has formed a working group that helps international students find employers willing to hire them.

International students who wish to work stateside after graduation must either run down their allotted 12 months of Optional Practical Training or apply for and receive an H-1B visa, which is costly. This creates substantial barriers to the job search for international students.

“Let’s say 50 companies come to campus, and only 15 say that they will take international students," Rafiq said. "If a domestic student went to a career fair, they would apply to maybe 30 companies. But someone like us would only have 5 companies that offer what we’re interested in. So we would have to apply to companies that don’t come to campus."

To remedy this, the Career Center's employer relations group is conducting research on where past international students have done internships and gotten full-time jobs both inside and outside the country, said Bill Wright-Swadel, assistant vice president for student affairs and Fannie Mitchell Executive Director at the Duke Career Center. 

This data will enable them to better identify employers who are likely to hire international students, he explained.

“We’re targeting a more aggressive employer relations posture with employers who have a history of being open to currently hiring international students,”  Wright-Swadel said.

He added that international students can also look forward to an enhanced career portal that will enable them to sort employers by whether or not they hire international students.

Meanwhile, the Career Center's undergraduate counseling team is presently focusing on first-year students and sophomores to ensure that all students are aware of the Career Center’s programs, most of which will begin after October 15. 

The Career Center has also assembled a working group with Duke Visa Services and career centers in the graduate schools around Duke to coordinate activities and look for ways to assist all international students on campus. 

As of the end of last semester, the Career Center pledged to provide a dedicated career counsellor for international students, Rafiq noted.

“The Duke Career Services in the past has not had a counsellor that is specifically for international students," he said. "Pressure has been on from the International Association for 50 years now to make a change in that regard. That’s as long as the IA has been around."

International Orientation

International Orientation has also been modified this year, due in part to efforts by the International Undergraduate Round Table, Chin said. The Round Table—which has existed for more than a decade and is made up of staff from Student Affairs and Academic Affairs—is chaired by Lisa Giragosian, director of International House.

One change made this year was the removal of "fluffier" aspects of International Orientation, noted sophomore Pau Guerra, who was an International House Orientation Peer during the program.

"Last year, I remember distinctly that there were some awkward skits acted out by IHOPs that covered topics like 'how to greet Americans.' The skits were widely regarded as kind of silly by most of the first-years, but I think it added notes of levity to the whole affair," Guerra said. "We didn't have that this year, so I feel that at times the students might have been overwhelmed with the amount of information they were receiving without the comedic breaks interspersed throughout."

Both Guerra and first-year Milena Ozernova credited International Orientation with enabling international students to form relationships with people from different countries and cultures.

"I met a lot of people, and I made a lot of friends," Ozernova said. "There's a guy from Israel who is my best friend here, and we wouldn't have met each other if not for International Orientation."

Students noted that Duke has provided more assistance for international students in recent years.

“Literally a year ago, there was nothing—no resources for international students,” said senior Mathilde Ooi, co-president of Duke International Association, referring specifically to career resources for international students.

However, there are still improvements to be made. Rafiq noted that Counseling and Psychological Servies has international counsellors but that you cannot choose which counsellor to visit.

“So a lot of international students get assigned to domestic counsellors, and they just come out unhappy," he said. "They’re like, this person does not understand me.”

CAPS could not be reached for comment.

Ooi also called for more targeted support for international students who hope to pursue the pre-med track. She explained that medical schools have close ties to the government and are reluctant to take international students because they need to make sure they are training students who will stay in the U.S.

In the meantime, the International Association plans to work more closely with the administration.

"The issue we think international students often face is that the University tends to make a lot of change, which is understandable. Even though we have about 300 people per class, that’s still a lot less than the locals from here," Rafiq said. "The only way that we can see to potentially breach this is to make connections with the administration."