'I think you have a little piece of the world here at IU'

International studies major Caroline Duchette is fostering her love for different cultures while also welcoming international students to the IU campus.

When Caroline Duchette graduated from high school, she decided to leave her hometown of Florence, Kentucky, for an adventure studying abroad in Brazil.  

That trip opened her eyes to just how big the world can be and helped her develop a passion for exploring as much of it as she can.

"In Brazil, I had contact with a ton of international students from all over the world, and that is when I really gained a love for travel and a desire to travel the world," she said. "Traveling helped me realize that we are such a small part of the bigger picture. But everywhere you go, if you have an open mind and are willing to learn, you will meet people so passionate about sharing their culture and where they live."

Duchette in the Amazon rainforest, holding a sloth while on a guided nature tour in Brazil. Photo courtesy of Caroline Duchette

After Brazil, Duchette made her way to IU Bloomington, where she is now a junior majoring in international studies and preparing to one day enter medical school. She has spent the past two years as a member of the International Students Welcome Week team, which lets her foster her passion for learning about different cultures while also helping others.

"Being a part of the team fits so well with my major and what I'm studying," she said. "Plus, I love IU so much, so being able to walk around campus with these students -- while learning about new cultures and welcoming them not only to IU but to the United States -- is awesome."

This year, Duchette is one of the team coordinators. She helps organize events such as movie night, an ice cream social, a tour of the campus recreational sports center and a hiking tour with IU Outdoor Adventures, and she helps international students find resources and connections on campus.

"Caroline is enthusiastic and passionate about welcoming new Hoosiers to the IU family," said Mai-Lin Poon, associate director of International Student Life in IU's Office of International Services. " She, along with her fellow International Student Welcome Team members, have worked hard to create activities and events to help international students in their transition to IU."

Like most new students, the international students she encounters during the week are typically nervous and a little overwhelmed. Add the fact that these students are sometimes thousands of miles away from home, trying to learn not only a new environment but sometimes a new language, and the transition can be tough.

That is why she said it is so important to have fun activities where the students can unwind, relax and make friends.

Duchette said it doesn't take long for students to begin feeling at home.

"The first couple of events, everyone is new and a little shy," she said. "But as the week goes on, you see people making friends, forming groups and becoming more relaxed. It is so cool to see people from all over the world make friends that they wouldn't have made if it weren't for IU."

Duchette poses for a picture outside the Indiana Memorial Union. Photo by Eric Rudd, IU Communications

Being part of the Welcome Week team isn't just a way to give back, Duchette said. She gains just as much from the students she interacts with as they gain from her.

Although she is rooted in one place while she completes her studies, Duchette said she is grateful that IU allows her to be a part of something bigger, right here at home.

"I think you have a little piece of the world here at IU," Duchette said. "You see so many different cultures and experiences represented. I don't think my experience would be the same without that."