Emory has created a new department under the Division of Campus Life to provide a space for international students on campus.

Coordinator for International Student Life Natalie Cruz joined Emory this summer and is spearheading the efforts of the Office of International Student Life (OISL), which is located on the second floor of the Dobbs University Center (DUC).

According to Cruz, in 2008, nationwide budget cuts that coincided with an influx of international students may have increased the demand for programs to support these students on campuses.

At Emory, international students account for more than 25 percent of all undergraduate and graduate divisions and come from more than 120 countries, according to Emory’s website.

Cruz said there is a disconnect between international and domestic students on campus, and said she hopes to improve the situation. She has already begun collaborating with a number of on-campus organizations to do so.

In November the OISL, in conjunction with the Barkley Forum, Emory’s debate team, will host a debate tournament for non-native English speaks, according to Cruz.

Additionally, the department plans to work with the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life to provide information sessions geared toward international students with the hopes of attracting them to Greek recruitment.

“I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault, but sometimes it really takes us who live here and are comfortable with the culture reaching out to the students,” Cruz said.

Cruz said international students told her that American students have not been welcoming and international students are unsure what to talk about with them.

One of the department’s main goals for this academic year is to modify the orientation program for international students.

In the past, orientation has lasted only a day, which makes it difficult for international students to overcome jetlag, according to Cruz.

Zhe Wu, a Goizueta Business School junior who grew up a few hours outside Shanghai, has helped make a number of changes to the orientation and introduction of international students.

Due to Wu’s efforts since his arrival at Emory in 2011,international students are now greeted at the airport with care packages.

Wu conducted a sociological survey asking international students what they thought could be improved. Based on the results, he sent a list of 10 recommendations to the University administration. Wu said much of the new department’s efforts are a result of his survey.

“I think that the new office has definitely become a vital resource for international students,” Wu said. “I think international students have become part of the Emory spirit and the Emory culture [since I got here].”

According to Wu, the development of a Chinese newsletter and other community services are two ways international students contribute to the community.

The Division of Campus Life focuses more on undergraduate students, but Cruz hopes OISL will appeal to international students from all divisions.

Additionally, Cruz said, international students participate more in the Emory community undergraduate level than in the graduate schools because of a difference in mindset.

“Graduate students view it very much as ‘I’m here to get a job,'” she said. “I think that the undergraduate students tend to get a little bit better integrated; a big part of that [is] living in the residence hall.”

While the OISL was designed as a space for international students to feel welcome and comfortable at Emory, it is also a vehicle through which domestic students can get to know people they would not normally meet otherwise, Cruz said.

“In our interconnected world, learning about different cultures and being able to have strong relationships with people who are totally different from you is a huge benefit,” she said.

Contributing to the community includes becoming familiar with the greater Atlanta area.

International students can attend events around the Atlanta area through the office, the next one of which is an Atlanta Silverbacks – the local soccer team – game.

Wu added that newer international students tend to be more willing to explore new opportunities because of the existence of the new office and its consistent, weekly efforts to involve the students. Cruz also said she hopes to implement a language partner program for both international and domestic students in the near future.

“One of the most beautiful things about international students is that there is no cap on their potential to contribute to the Emory spirit,” Wu said.

– By Rupsha Basu