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“Challenge yourself. Change your world.”

DukeEngage is a serious endeavor, and as such, requires thoughtful preparation. Of course, health and safety are the most important considerations. And of course, the more students know about their host communities and specific projects, the better they can support the work of their partner organizations. In addition, all of our programs, whether in the U.S. or abroad, offer unique opportunities for cross-cultural learning. Many of the communities we partner with have been historically marginalized, and deserve the highest standards of ethical engagement. And finally, students’ own social identities often shape and influence their experiences in unexpected ways.

In the spring before students enter into their host communities, they participate in a robust pre-departure training program called the Fortin Foundation DukeEngage Academy, designed to address these topics.

The Academy reflects our commitment to preparing students to be successful and ethical global citizens during DukeEngage and beyond.

Fortin Foundation DukeEngage Academy

The Academy consists of the following components:

Students participate in two or more orientation meetings led by their DukeEngage program leader(s). These meetings provide the group an opportunity to learn more about one another, their host communities, and their specific summer projects. Community partners and program alumni sometimes join these meetings.

Students participate in a series of four seminars that explore topics like the implications of short-term service; ethical engagement; culture shock; and health, safety and travel. Led by former DukeEngage participants, this series provides the groundwork and tools for effective civic engagement, safety, and self-care. The seminar series also helps DukeEngage participants cultivate an ethos of critical reflection about the world and their place in it.

You can access the 2021 virtual seminar series syllabus here, and read more about some of its components below.

Sample material from the pre-departure seminars:

  • A closer look at DukeEngage – our work is complicated and nuanced, demanding a great deal of thought and intentionality from participants. Before ever stepping foot in their host communities, we want students to begin to critically examine their experience. Students discuss questions such as: What’s the purpose of DukeEngage? Are there right and wrong reasons to do DukeEngage? What steps can DukeEngage participants take to work as ethically and equitably as possible? Can Duke students be seen as anything other than “privileged outsiders”?
  • A Nazareth Manifesto – this excerpt introduces students to three paradigms of engagement: working for, working with, and being with. We want students to work with our partner communities, and use this reading to start a conversation about how to do so.
  • What is community? How does it develop during DukeEngage – within a group of students, with the local organizations they partner with, and with members of the community themselves?
  • How is DukeEngage different from volunteering, or from an internship? How do group reflection, discussions about the big picture in a social issue, and cultural immersion change the focus?
  • Identity – What is your social identity? How about your social change identity? How might they come up in your experience?
  • Health & Safety – the health and safety of participants is of utmost importance, and we recognize that participating in DukeEngage often means a shift in routine health and safety considerations. Students read our Health & Safety handbook individually, discuss it with peers, and synthesize its contents to create a tailored health & safety plan (in-person years).

Student preceptors

The pre-departure seminar series is led by students! Preceptors are DukeEngage alumni selected for their leadership capabilities and thoughtful commitment to community engagement. DukeEngage preceptors are trained to facilitate meaningful discussion among their peers, and belong to a teaching and learning community, committing to weekly group meetings to debrief, reflect, and share best practices.

The student-led model allows new DukeEngage participants to learn from students who have recently been in their shoes, with the added benefit of deepening the re-entry experience for a small group of student leaders. A couple of testimonials from the inaugural cohort of preceptors:

After having eye-opening experiences during my DukeEngage Vietnam program, I wanted to help others make the best of their DukeEngage summer. Being a preceptor has been a wonderful teaching and learning experience. I love that the [sessions] are so much more than just a classroom, but a place for active discussion about how to be more aware and responsive to different cultures and people. Learning to be more thoughtful and critical of how your actions and words affect others, as well as how you let other people impact you, extends beyond DukeEngage and will continue to be useful as we encounter different people in our lives. I think it allows us to become better people.” –Thien Hoang, DukeEngage Vietnam 2017

“Working as a preceptor for DukeEngage was originally my idea of “paying it forward,” after I had grown and learned so much from my own DukeEngage experience in Rwanda…What I didn’t realize was that, although I was teaching and facilitating these courses, I also was learning so much, whether from the students I was working with, or the material that we were processing together.” –Maddie Braksick, DukeEngage Rwanda 2018

In some years spring semester activities will culminate in a Spring Convocation, a time for all participants to come together and acknowledge their practical and ethical commitments to the upcoming summer’s work.

We will not be holding a Spring Convocation in 2022. We look forward to hosting this event in future years.

During the fall semester, participants reconvene for both cohort-specific group reunions/reflections, and a DukeEngage-wide symposium.

2022 dates TBA.

Diversity, Identity and Global Travel

The experiences of each DukeEngage student will be as different as the students themselves. Some students will be placed in locations where they may be considered a minority and possibly encounter challenges or discrimination based on religion, race, sexual/gender identity, ability or other aspects of their identity. We strive to prepare all DukeEngage participants for the location and culture in which they will be immersed, and to support them during their DukeEngage experience.

If you have any questions or concerns related to safety or well-being during your travels, please reach out to your Program Director or one of our staff advisors:

Below are some resources that may be useful as you plan for your unique travel experience.

Some DukeEngage students may be the first person of their perceived ethnicity or race to work in their host community; others may find themselves among the majority for the first time. While some students have reported minimal differences between their home and host cultures, others have faced complicated cultural assumptions and norms. If you would like to discuss any potential concerns, we encourage you to contact the relevant site’s Program Director early on in your decision-making process for information and advice.

LGBTQIA+ students have reported a variety of experiences in DukeEngage. Some have worked in cosmopolitan cities where they’ve never felt more welcome to be themselves, while other students have chosen not to share their identities with host country nationals due to perceived cultural norms. If you would like to discuss any potential concerns, we encourage you to contact the relevant site’s Program Director early on in your decision-making process for information and advice.

Students interested in applying to DukeEngage are advised to consider their health status, need for ongoing medical treatment, and need for accommodation to carry out the activities involved in a DukeEngage experience.

If you have concerns or questions about the work and everyday life activities typical at a specific DukeEngage site, we encourage you to contact that site’s Program Director early on in your decision-making process for information and advice, as well as noting your concerns with us at

The team at DukeReach also has many years of experience supporting DukeEngage students who want or need advice about traveling with physical or mental health concerns; please connect with them if you’d like to talk with someone about your unique needs. If you have a disability, we also encourage you to contact the Duke Student Disability Access Office for advice specific to your needs and to understand the process for requesting accommodations.

Prescribed gender roles vary across societies, and the host communities of our DukeEngage programs are no exception. While some female-identifying participants have reported little to no difference in how their perceived gender shapes their experience, others have encountered strict and/or troublesome cultural norms that have influenced their behavior beyond what they initially expected. If you would like to discuss any potential concerns, we encourage you to contact the relevant site’s Program Director early on in your decision-making process for information and advice.

Duke students come from a wide variety of religious backgrounds, and many DukeEngage students find that they don’t share the same religion as their local host culture. While this normally doesn’t pose problems, students may want to consider how they would react to a lack of access to religious services or how they may need to modify their behavior in order to comply with host-culture norms and expectations. If you would like to discuss any potential concerns, we encourage you to contact the relevant site’s Program Director early on in your decision-making process for information and advice.

Identity-related DukeEngage blog posts

We understand that it can be helpful for future participants to gain perspective from their peers, and offer the following blog posts and video from DukeEngage students reflecting on their experiences dealing with diversity issues abroad.

In this deeply moving account of his struggle to be true to his identity while prioritizing his safety, Indy Rajan describes the careful but difficult choices he made and what he learned along the way.

Program Cancellation, Withdrawal, and Termination

DukeEngage cannot provide any assurance that the program will occur as described. Changes may be required as deemed necessary or advisable by Duke in light of health, safety, or security considerations or the programmatic interests of the programs.

If a program is cancelled before it begins due to low enrollment or any other reason, DukeEngage will advise the affected students, but can’t guarantee placement in another program.

Students may not voluntarily withdraw from DukeEngage without prior written permission from the DukeEngage Associate Director of Operations. If you withdraw without permission, Duke will remove the DukeEngage designation from your transcript, and you may be required to reimburse Duke for any expenses incurred on your behalf.

Duke may terminate its agreement to allow a student to participate in DukeEngage at any time, if a student is found to be in breach of the fellowship agreement.