Now You See Me, Now You Don't: A brief history of Duke international students

“All roads lead to the United States”: Foreign Students in the Postwar Era

Historical Background

Foreign student enrollment experienced a shrink during the wartime. Records from the University Registrar indicate that in 1942, there were 23 foreign students, about 10 of them enrolled in Women’s College, while by the end of 1945, there were only about 8 students, most of whom from Latin America.

Campaign of Truth

 The Educational exchange was considered one means to engage in "Campaign of Truth".A pamphlet about the campaign was found in records of 1950s in the archive

With the restoration of peace in 1945, there has been a growing enthusiasm in educational and cultural exchange internationally against the backdrop of the growing Cold War tensions. President Truman launched the Campaign of Truth after the war, encouraging international propaganda of the American democracy so that false impressions about America overseas could be eliminated. 

The United States has emerged as a popular destination for many ambitious foreign students as it came out of the battlefield not only intact but even stronger than ever: stable economic booms after the war, free of physical destruction suffered by European countries, dominant military power with nuclear weapon… The 1950s was “the beginning of the American century”, and it was now “all roads lead to the United States”. 

Summer Orientation

Each year about 40 foreign students attended this six-week summer orientation program at Duke. After the program, they usually went to other colleges to pursue official study. 

Courtesy of University Archive

The International Studies Center

During this period, the foreign students came to study at Duke were mostly exchange students and they were usually funded by scholarship programs or by the States Department.

One notable exchange program funded by the States and administrated by the Institute of International Education (IIE) was the Fulbright Exchange Program, through which students from Europe, Australia, and Asia came to study in U.S. colleges.

Many Fulbright scholars came to Duke from 1951 to 1957 for an orientation program, known officially as international studies center. The program was organized under a contract with IIE. The primary purpose of the program was, according to a 1959 report by the Committee on Foreign Student program, “the introduction of the American life, University life, and the improvement of student’s command of English”. 

At Duke, some of the activities of the orientation program were combined with that of the Summer Session so that domestic students and foreign students could interact with each other. 

Report on Foreign Student to Advisor

A report on foreign student Kim Key-Hyon, who attended t the orientation program at the University of Hawaii. He was described as "very reticent and shy" with" no leadership potential". 

About 10 institutions in the U.S. operated similar summer orientation program for foreign student in the early 1950s in collaboration with IIE. When the program ended and the student began their offical study in the U.S., a report of their performance at the orientation program would be sent to the foreign advisor of their current school. 

From these reports, we can get a sense of how some of the professors and students in America perceive these foreign students and the nature of the program. The report above, for example, mentions a professor's words to the shy and silent Korean student: "You're lucky to be going to orientation. You will have a six weeks' vacation at the expense of the U.S. Gov't". 

Possibly because of its homogenous culture, the Durham community took great interests in these foreign faces, and local newspapers in the 1950s made a fuss about their lives in the United States. 

The German Training Program

Another program operated at Duke around the same time called The German Training Program was probably less known, but a critical look at it reveals a lot about what’s really behind this post-war enthusiasm for educational exchange. 

German Student Report

The program was directed by three professors from the Department of Political Science. A report about the program was presented to President Edens and then passed on to the States Department. 

Sponsored by the U.S. Army, eleven young men (many of which were wartime veteran) from West Germany were selected to study law, economics and governmental affairs at Duke from 1949 to 1950 (nine stayed for the whole two years). In President Eden’s records was a 22-page detailed report of this program that intended to make the students see “democracy at work”. Special seminars were designed exclusively for the group to study “the principal political institutions and underlying principles of American government”, as well as reading The Federalist and Democracy in America. The report notes that initially the group was more interested in the “seamy” side of American political life, but later became more constructive in their criticism once they discovered “no attempt was made to conceal this aspect”. By the end, the report states that the program was a success as the German students’ attitudes had “moved from frank and frequently naïve criticism to one of unqualified and sometimes uncritical praises for [American] virtues”. It does acknowledge, on the other hand, that mutual understanding and insight into each other’s problems were gained. 

German training leaving
German training students leaving

German students were described by local newspapers as "new missionaries" who were eager to showcase the American way of life to their own people. News Clippings from the 1950s News Service File. 

When the nine students finished their study in 1950 and returned to Germany, acres of local newsprints were devoted to this event. They were charged as “the new missionaries” who would spread the gospel of American way of life and democracy. 

There seemed to be little difference compared to the beginning of the century: the institution still intended to educate its foreign students to become missionaries, except for this time, what they want to transmit was not the grace of God, but the secular doctrine of American way of life.  For the local community, attentions were fixated on superficial cultural differences that the foreign students brought along with them, and they were seeking novelty rather than actually appreciating diversity.  

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