Purdue Profiles: Beth Tucker

October 28, 2014  

Beth Tucker

Beth Tucker, coordinator of programs and engagement (Purdue University photo/Charles Jischke)
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Beth Tucker’s mission to make international students feel at home in their new community was sparked years ago, when she was made to feel at home living with a Chinese family in Taipei, Taiwan.

Tucker is a coordinator of programs and engagement in the Office of International Programs, but before she came to Purdue, she spent her early postcollegiate years teaching English as a second language to students in Taiwan. When she came back to the States, she taught ESL at colleges in Chicago, but she found herself looking for more. Tucker has found the perfect career balance at Purdue, combining her passion for working with international students and developing programs and events to help students connect with their host culture to feel welcomed.

How is the Office of International Programs structured?

A year ago, programming in the Office of International Students and Scholars was moved to the Office of International Programs in Young Hall. As the international student population increased, it became apparent that we needed to direct more resources toward programming and be more intentional in our efforts. Three of us now work together as a team with the overarching goal to integrate undergraduate international students into the campus community. It’s been exciting to find campus partners that share our goals and build programs together with them.

Each of us who works as a program coordinator in IP manages different programs. The International Friendship Program and the Educational Exchange Program are two that I coordinate. I see my role as providing opportunities for students to learn outside the classroom and for community members of all ages to learn about other cultures from our students.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Something I didn't know until I started doing orientations for community members in the International Friendship Program was hearing from people who've been in the program before say that they've been in touch with their student for 10 or even 15 years! Some of these families really work to maintain that connection and felt like the student had become a part of their family, and the student felt the same way.

I love the fact that our programs serve as a bridge between cultures, whether it's a bridge to new experiences that students can have or between people connecting with other people. When students are engaged and making meaningful connections with people in our community, it makes me feel good that I’ve had a part in making that happen.

What are some details about the Educational Exchange Program?

I take students out into area schools to share their culture, and during International Education Week, which is the third week of November, we create "International Days” at select area schools.

Certain grade levels, usually sixth- or seventh-grade students, are more interested in learning about other cultures based on Indiana’s core curriculum. But elementary teachers and their students are eager for us to come, too. Teachers often request that our students cover topics related to what their students are learning in certain disciplines -- for example, Chinese medicine in a health class, how to play cricket in a physical education class or teaching how to cook a Vietnamese dish in a home economics class.

We call it educational exchange because the international students are learning about the school and the education system in the U.S. as well. It opens their eyes and gives them an experience of what life’s like here for children, which may be very different from what they thought.

Do you have a story from abroad that stands out among the rest?

On the first night of living with my Chinese family in Taiwan, the grandmother had prepared a special meal in my honor. With a big smile on her face, she set a bowl of soup in front of me. It was an interesting color—blood red from a special wine powder she’d used to flavor the soup.

Smiling back at my host, I put my spoon in and brought up the head of a chicken, complete with its beak and eyes staring straight up at me! Somehow, instead of screaming, I was able to contain myself, but there was no way in the world I was going to eat that! Guessing that I had been given the choice part, I was able to save face and offer it back to the grandmother, the real person of honor at the table. I had to offer not once but three times according to Chinese custom. She smilingly and graciously took my bowl – to my great relief!

Writer: Kourtney Freiburger, 49-62993, kfreibu@purdue.edu 

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