"There is a fine balance between helping these students adjust to the culture of the American classroom but also being respectful of where they are coming from as well."

Natalie Cruz

Coordinator of International Student Life

Natalie Cruz came to Emory in July 2013 to accept this newly created position in the Division of Campus Life. A Clemson University graduate, Cruz completed a master’s degree in higher education student affairs at the University of South Carolina, where she worked in international student services and in a two-year learning community of high-achieving students before coming to Emory.

The Academic Exchange: How do you describe your role?

Natalie Cruz: I view my role as helping international students holistically. It’s uncommon to see a position like this in campus life specifically for international students. I am not specifically focused on academic support or immigration issues, but focused on cultural adjustments such as social issues, living in Atlanta, and connecting with the Emory community. I’m fortunate to be located here in the DUC, where I should be accessible and convenient for students to stop by. 

AE: What are your priorities?

NC: My first priority is to get to know students and their needs. I’ve done a lot of research on what other schools are doing, but I really want to know what the unique needs are at Emory. I also want to let students know that I’m here and get to know faculty. I also want to be integrated with academic life as well. International students don’t come here specifically for campus life, but rather for academics. So I want to be very intentional in what I do, so that my office offers things students really need. For example, this year I’m going to partner with the Career Center to support international students in areas like job searches and networking, and with the Counseling Center to provide some continuing orientation sessions for international students.

Longer term, revamping international student orientation is a big priority. As it stands this year, it’s basically only one extra day of important immigration information before the regular orientation. I think a critical component of international students feeling supported here is their experience in the first few days. That really sets the tone for their experience here. 

Another long-term plan is to offer a language partner program. Many students who come have a strong command of English, but they are always still learning. Language partner programs look different at all schools, but they pair native and non-native English speakers. The weekly coffee hour at Emory would be a good place to start. Beyond that, I will encourage the students to meet regularly and just sit down and chat and get to know each other. And it can be reciprocal—if a domestic student is learning French, they might request a French-speaking partner. 

It also provides an automatic connection with an American student. That can be a real challenge for international students. There’s been a lot of research about how international students tend to hang out with other international students, particularly among Chinese students because of the large quantity of students at most U.S. institutions. A lot of those students report that they want to have American friends but don’t know where to start or have difficulties with language. That is one thing that I really want to focus on, providing intentional opportunities for international and domestic students to get to know one another. 

In addition, I want to create a global student organization, work with international student organizations, and create more campus-wide international events.

AE: What are some things that faculty can keep in mind as the number of international students in their classes rises?

NC: Two-thirds of the international students come here from three countries—China, Korea, and India—but there are more than a hundred other countries represented. Keep that in mind. I’d love to work with faculty to support their experience teaching international students. There is a fine balance between helping these students adjust to the culture of the American classroom but also being respectful of where they are coming from as well. In many cultures, it’s not appropriate to challenge your professor or speak up in class. So faculty could explain, “This is what is typically expected of you as a student, and if you’re not comfortable or don’t understand, please come talk to me.” That would be a great start in the right direction to support international students in the classroom.

Even something as simple as a grading rubric that addresses participation expectations in class discussion is helpful for international students. International students may not feel as comfortable because of language or just because of their background and the classroom culture where they grew up. Are there some other ways you can assess participation, maybe written or one-on-one talking with other students? Those might be some things to think about. 

I encourage faculty to reach out to me with any questions, challenges, or success stories they may have regarding international students. 

International Education Week at Emory: Nov. 9 – 16

International Education Week is an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. A joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education, the event is celebrated in hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide and aims to promote programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences in the United States. The following events at Emory are being presented as part of International Education Week.

  • November 9: CultureShock Cultural Festival 
  • November 13: Summer Study Abroad Fair 
  • November 13 CIPA Spring 2014 Pre-Departure Orientation 
  • (for Spring 2014 study abroad applicants)
  • November 12: Trivia Night – Where is Dooley? 
  • November 15: Crossing Cultures Video for Emory staff
  • November 15: International Coffee Hour 
  • November 16: The International Student Debate 

More details available on the International Student Life website, http://oisl.emory.edu.