October 29, 2019

UW’s new “portal to the world”: CIRCLE has launched

Students holding hands in a circle in a field near the woods at a Unite UW retreat

International and domestic students participating in a retreat facilitated by Unite UW, one of the programs now housed with CIRCLE.

JUST IN TIME for November 2019, UW’s first-ever Global Month, the Division of Student Life has launched CIRCLE, the Center for International Relations and Cultural Leadership Exchange. CIRCLE helps to streamline UW’s mosaic of international student support services and amplify cross-cultural programming for domestic and international student engagement, to provide a unified “front door” for the global Husky Experience.

“UW has historically maintained a decentralized structure when it comes to international student services,” said UW Vice President for Student Life Denzil Suite. “CIRCLE is a strategic reimagining of this landscape to leverage existing resources in a more student-centered way.”

CIRCLE and Student Life leadership Felipe Martinez, Denzil Suite, and Dan Zhu smiling for the camera

From left to right: CIRCLE Executive Director Felipe Martinez, UW Vice President for Student Life Denzil Suite, and CIRCLE Assistant Director Dan Zhu.

CIRCLE will improve international student access to support, including better connecting them with services to help navigate the complex and evolving higher education ecosystem. CIRCLE will also place emphasis on wellness programs and mental health resources. International students are a particularly high-risk population for mental health concerns associated with isolation, culture shock and lack of support systems.

The overarching mission of CIRCLE, however, extends well beyond international student support. CIRCLE aims to holistically expand horizons and opportunities for domestic students as well as international students.

“Whether a student is from Seattle, Seoul, Yakima or Guatemala, they all see the importance of establishing global competencies and connections for their personal growth and their professional trajectory,” said CIRCLE Executive Director Felipe Martinez.

Photo of people walking around inside the CIRCLE office

CIRCLE, along with Unite UW and FIUTS, is located at Schmitz Hall 250 in a newly-renovated space.

“Programming provided by CIRCLE, as well as our partners Unite UW and FIUTS, helps students expand their sense of belonging to encompass a global community. This has clear and lasting benefits to their academic success, well-being and overall Husky Experience,” Martinez said, referencing two cross-cultural engagement organizations at UW that CIRCLE now houses together.

Finding community on a large campus can be a challenge for many students. Hannah Doyle, a student from West Richland, Washington, said, “Unite UW truly made UW feel like a smaller community for me. Now, I always see friendly faces as I walk between classes, and I always have people to study and grab food with.”

Hannah Doyle, a Unite UW participant, smiling while walking in the woods in a UW sweatshirt

Hannah Doyle, a domestic student from West Richland, Washington, has been an active participant in UW’s international/domestic student engagement programs like Unite UW.

For international students, the challenge of finding friends and building community is even more complex, and is often compounded by the struggles and stressors that come with being far away from family, friends and familiar networks of support.

“I perceived the academic competition to be my biggest challenge before coming to college, but actually for me it was finding a community within our massive campus that became a focal point of all my issues,” said Baljaa Tovuudorj, a UW student from Mongolia. “All college students leave a part of themselves behind, whether it be their home, friends, pets or family, and for international students, all of the above. Not having a support system really hindered my ability to excel.”

Tovuudorj advocates for the importance of establishing CIRCLE to coordinate and amplify cross-cultural engagement at UW. He said everything changed for him when he decided to take a risk and get involved in these university programs.

Baljaa speaking at a podium to a crowd of UW employees

Baljaa Tovuudorj, a UW student from Mongolia, shares with UW staff how his participation in UW’s international/domestic student engagement programming has transformed his Husky Experience.

“It’s important to meaningfully engage with people who are different from you because it is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and your own culture,” he said. “It is a sort of metacognitive experience of self-discovery and improvement. Also, it is just a more fun way to look at life in general, the feeling of being able to connect with a stranger from a place you can’t even pronounce is very liberating.”

In addition to bolstering the collaboration and impact of existing programs, CIRCLE serves to provide students with a “global living room” – a physical space in Schmitz Hall 250 that supports internationally-minded student organizations, facilitates guest lectures and extra-curricular educational opportunities, and provides a home base for a new international/domestic student ambassador program.

“By centering student needs that we’ve heard loud and clear for years, we have really established something extraordinary here,” Martinez said. “In the words of one of our students, ‘It’s a home away from home, a portal to the world.’”