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

Twists and Changes in the Global Age: 90s and the New Century

foreign students to 2001

Number of international students (undergraduates and graduates), 1985-2001. 

Growing Enthusiasm

Near the end of the 20th century, there was growing competition from other countries for international student enrollments. Countries directly and aggressively competing with the United States for international students were Australia, Canada, and Britain. Many U.S. colleges started to actively recruit international students. The enthusiasm behind such efforts is probably connected to economics too: in 1997-1998, the nearly 500,000 international students in the U.S. have contributed more than $8 billion.

Duke’s undergraduate international students have been decreasing since the latter half of the 1980s, although the number of graduate international students was steadily on the rise, thus leading the total number of international students to rise. Two main reasons that the number of undergraduate student decrease were the ever-increasing tuition and the fact that financial aid was not available to non-U.S. citizens. To attract more international students, the Undergraduate Admission Office initiated its first international recruiting trip to Asia in 1991, Europe in 1993, Central and South America in 1993. The number of international undergraduates quickly rebounded. 

1990 International Student Reception

Special reception of international students held by President Brodie (right). then IHouse director Carlisle Havard (in red) was also present. 

President Keith Brodie was very concerned about issues involving international students during his term. Starting in 1985, he and Mrs. Brodie would host a reception to welcome international students during international orientation. The University Archive also has correspondence between President Brodie and Carlisle Harvard, then director of International House, regarding those special receptions. There was also on time he wrote to ask about the details of the different types of visa issued to international students, and how that would affect their work/study status while in the United States.

Near the end of 1990s, discussions on whether to make financial aid available to international undergraduate students began to emerge. In 1997, a committee headed by Bruce Kuniholm, vice provost for academic and international affair, had intensive discussions on this topic. One important argument being raised was that providing financial aid would increase the presence of those international students who “have not always enjoyed life's luxuries”, and thus adding to the richness and diversity of Duke. Finally, beginning in the fall of 2002, undergraduate international students were eligible to receive limited financial aid. A few scholarship programs were also set up to award a small number of international students from certain countries.  

The Tradeoff

              The opening years of the 21st century, there were increasing debates on international students and the rising threat of terrorism, especially after the 9/11 terrorist attack. Some propose that there should be greater scrutiny of international students, while opponents contend that such extreme proposals would accomplish little except to staunch the flow of international students, and the billions of dollars their presence introduced into the U.S. economy (Bevis &Lucas, 204). Again, many consider the issue from a financial perspective instead of a humanitarian one. 


The IHOPs were selected from undergraudate students to help greet incoming international stduents and facilitate the international orientation. Courtesy of International House 

Fortunately, at Duke, the story takes on a different path. Realizing that certain populations of the international community feared that they might be targeted after the attack in 2001, IHouse organized a program which offers safe space for international students. It was a memorable night for Lisa Giragosian, current director of IHouse. She met many students, international and domestic, that she hadn’t known before and students did cultural activities and share their thoughts together. IHouse has strived to be more cultural sensitive since then. In the early 2000s, the International House Orientation Peer (IHOP) program was started, every year a team of pre-selected undergraduates would help greet the incoming international students and facilitate the International Orientation. 

In 2006, IHouse developed the Intercultural Skills Development Program for Duke faculty and staff.  The same year, the director and two staff of IHouse were invited to the Broad of Trustee meeting for the first time to give a status updates of international undergraduate students at Duke.  Challenges faced by international students are also getting much more attention than the past, their viewpoints and voices increasingly being featured and heard. The most recent issue of Duke Magazine, for example, devoted 13 pages discussing problems international students face in networking, finding jobs, dealing with visa and other paperwork. 

international students 05-12

There has been an increase in admission of undergraduate international students starting around the academic year of 2006-2007.  

Behind such progress and increasing administration attention, however, there were new problems and challenges emerging. Around the year of 2006, Duke started to increase admission of undergraduate international students, aiming to ensure that they make up 14 percent of the whole class. Such an admission policy leads to many changes. 

Most notably, IHouse has become more institutionalized and professionalized. When Carlisle Harvard served as director of IHouse back in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, she used to know most of the international students by name. Community members were a lot more involved with IHouse programs back then. Volunteers would pick up international students at the airport when they first arrived, and many international students would have a Durham host family. Nowadays, the biggest event of the IHouse every year is the international orientation in the fall, after which many international students would rarely visit IHouse again. 

Ihouse on central

IHouse is currently located at 300 Alexander Drive on central campus. As the central campus renovation goes on, it will have to relocate in the future. 

The fact that IHouse moved from Campus Drive to a less accessible location on central campus also contributes to the problem. Funding was another issue, with half of the annual funding being spent on the international orientation, it’s challenging for IHouse to develop and operate new programs for international students. It also becomes harder for community volunteers to get involved because they have to go through a background check, which they have to pay for themselves, and other bureaucrat procedures.

It’s a tradeoff. While international students nowadays would find themselves receiving more welcomes arriving on campus, adjusting to the new environment faster and easier, and meeting others of foreign nationals much more frequently on campus, the relatively more informal and intimate relationship with the IHouse and the Durham community that international students in the 80s and the 90s has enjoyed, it is probably only going to remain a history.  

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