Our International Spotlight features focus not only on those who came here from abroad, but also on American students who devoted a significant part of their time to intercultural activities while enrolled here at the University of Iowa, as well as faculty and staff who support internationalization at Iowa. An American graduate of the UI, Natalie Gilkison worked with international students and time spent studying abroad while she was an undergraduate student at Iowa. Read on to learn her story.
Natalie is from Davenport, Iowa, and graduated from the University of Iowa in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in international studies. She went on to attend law school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where she recently received her Juris Doctorate this year.
During her time at the University of Iowa, Natalie worked with International Student and Scholar Services for a couple of years, helping us forge some interesting new programs. She was part of the starting group of peer assistants, whose job was to offer activities for groups of new international students.
The objective of the peer assistants program was to find opportunities to get international students to attend events around the UI campus and community that they might not otherwise attend. The Peer Assistant leaders provided some security by leading small groups of students to experience things they might otherwise not know about or be hesitant to attend on their own. The program has since gone through some changes since Natalie’s time here but still exists, now in the form of the Global@Iowa course.
After serving for a year as a peer assistant, Natalie also assisted ISSS as the coordinator for the Life in Iowa series, a long-running program that provides an extended “orientation” for international students throughout the year, incorporating workshops on practical topics such as job searches or writing resumes, celebrating American cultural traditions such as carving pumpkins for Halloween, or social opportunities for international students to be involved in.
She also implemented a live chat feature on the ISSS website to allow incoming and current students to ask questions or seek guidance on a variety of things they might not feel comfortable bringing up with a staff member.
She helped found the Iowa chapter of the Greater China Business Association at the University of Iowa, developing promotional materials and recruitment campaigns and assisting in fundraising.
Natalie engaged in a number of opportunities abroad during both undergraduate and graduate studies. She studied abroad in China at Beijing Language and Culture University as an undergrad, spending part of a year studying Mandarin, pop culture, and social change. Prior to this, she served as a summer camp counselor in Taiwan.
She was also able to participate in a summer program in Ireland and Wales through the University of Missouri-Kansas City, looking at European Union law, international criminal law, and gender justice. Her experiences in Ireland led her to study Irish Travellers, an ethnic minority group indigenous to Ireland. Before she was aware of the group, her response after being told by someone that he was a Traveller is a great example of a cultural misunderstanding: “I’m a traveler too! I was an international studies major during undergrad!”
Participation in work exchanges and personal travel has also taken her to many other places around the world, including Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, South Korea, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Czech Republic, Italy, Switzerland, and France. She is still able to converse in Mandarin and is proficient in Spanish.
Natalie’s focus on international issues remained true during her time in law school, where she took courses on immigration law, human rights, and multicultural “lawyering.” She hopes to work with international students or in international education.
Calling all University of Iowa alumni: Share your own international stories with us through Virtual Homecoming!