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The World at Her Door

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The World at Her Door

"I really like TC. Our students are wonderful. They're really intelligent and they do a lot of research and take the initiative, which makes our job easier.” ~Samantha Lu

Years back, while studying abroad in Florence, Italy, Samantha Lu was faced with an unexpected problem: how to get the washing machine in her apartment to work. It looked like an American model, but it sure didn’t operate like one.

She was also perplexed by why the markets were always closed when she went grocery shopping in the afternoon. (The answer, she learned, was that Florentines took afternoon naps).

She didn’t know it at the time, but all those little cross-cultural challenges and discoveries would turn out to be pretty good training for Lu, who in January became director of the Teachers College Office of International Student Services.

“My experiences definitely helped me in understanding where students are coming from,” Lu says. “Some of these things are so basic, but if you don’t already know them, it’s a learning experience.”

Lu tries to provide plenty of learning experiences for TC’s international students, helping them with everything from navigating life in New York City to opening a bank account. A worldly sort herself, Lu was born in China and immigrated to the United States during grade school. After graduating from the University of Nebraska, Lu worked in two other international offices across the country before taking the associate director position at TC in 2007.

“It’s a good opportunity,” Lu says. “I really like TC. Our students are wonderful. They’re really intelligent and they do a lot of research and take the initiative, which makes our job easier.”

According to Lu, about 600 of TC’s 5,000 students come from overseas, a number that has remained stable for some years. The students come from every corner of world—from China to Brazil and beyond—to study everything from art education to the economics of education, drawn by TC’s reputation and strong academic programs.

In addition to providing ongoing help with immigration and academic matters, Lu says the Office of International Student Services also tries to mix in fun events. In November, the office organizes International Education Week with any number of research presentation and lectures, and in the spring, it hosts International Week, a social celebration in which student groups share aspects with their culture, from music to cuisine, with the TC community.

Though she’s still settling into her new position, Lu already has some projects in the works. In the fall, she hopes to have immigration and employment opportunity workshops available online for students who are unable to attend in person. She is also planning an online video to introduce students to the orientation process before they arrive.

“The idea,” Lu says, “is to reduce anxiety.”

But many things will stay the same—not the least of which is a tradition started by former director Marion Boultbee of organizing a scavenger hunt as way to orient new international students to TC’s labyrinthine hallways. So not to worry, Lu says, as everyone can still expect to see intrepid international students navigating the halls in search of some of TC’s more obscure locales.

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