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Improving Support of International Students

A growing percentage of entering students come to Drexel from beyond US borders.  To improve staff interactions with international students, the Libraries held a staff development workshop to raise awareness of cross-cultural communications and begin to develop concrete skills in communicating more effectively with speakers having low English language skills.

Barbara Hoekje, Associate Professor of Communication and Robert Walters, Coordinator Student Support, English Language Center, developed and conducted an excellent session for the Libraries staff.  They began with describing the incoming international students' population at Drexel. An experiential exercise simulated some aspects of a cross-cultural exchange experience and then drew practical applications to library settings.  Collectively, workshop participants identified issues and solved problems relating to international student use of the library and their relation to library policies and procedures.

The most successful part of the workshop was the enthusiastic participation in the experiential activity, a card game called BARNGA. The game was played without speaking, so the only communication permitted was via body language. Additionally, a few twists were added [not to be disclosed here in case our readers may have the opportunity to experience this game]. The inability to convey the incongruity of information enabled participants to understand and empathize directly with international student’s communication experiences.  Serving as a team-building experience for the Libraries’ staff and stimulating ideas on policy and service communication improvements, the workshop provided solid preparation for the fall quarter.

Nancy Bellafante, Librarian for Undergraduate Learning subsequently planned and led tours of W.W. Hagerty Library for international students during Welcome Back Week. The tours addressed questions many international students have about academic libraries in the U.S. and began with students completing a chart comparing their home country’s library to the Drexel Libraries system.

Bellafante explains, “The goal of this exercise is to activate students’ prior knowledge, so they can better compare differences and retain new information. Throughout the tour, I invite students to share their library experiences, which provides a learning opportunity for me as well. We return to the chart at the end of the tour to review information about Drexel Libraries, allowing students to complete the chart and ask any questions.”

Bellafante recently provided similar tours for students enrolled in the Drexel International Gateway program at the English Language Center. Additional workshops are planned related to career services and the Libraries is also developing an online guide to resources and services for international students. The guide will be available on the Libraries’ website January 2013.

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