EP6: On Cross-Border Narratives with Dr. Natalie Cruz

There is a story behind every scholar. 

Welcome to Global Scholar Stories, a podcast by the Journal of International Students. We share the personal stories of scholars behind their research in international education.

This episode is part of our Season 1, where we explore how we can develop our relationship with writing. I hope you could get some inspiration from our guests who will share how they became authentic and strong writers in the field of international education. 

Our guest for this episode is Dr. Natalie Irby Cruz, an Assistant Director of Global Strategies and Initiatives at Emory University. 

Her previous roles include an Assistant Professor at Charleston Southern University, an instructor position at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates, and the Director of International Student Life at Emory University. For JIS, she is the Section Editor for the Cross-border Narratives. 

Her research interests include changing modes of global student mobility, international students’ experiences in underresearched contexts, and increasing access to intercultural learning experiences. 

Now let’s dive into our conversation! 


Asuka Ichikawa: All right. So thank you so much for joining the show, Dr. Cruz.

Dr. Natalie Cruz: Thank you for having me.

Asuka Ichikawa: Awesome. Thank you again. To begin with, you have been a core member of the journal JIS first as a Production Editor, and now as a Section Editor. I was wondering if you could begin by sharing what makes JIS special, both in terms of its role in the field. But also for your professional development.

Dr. Natalie Cruz: Absolutely. Well, the Journal of International Students or the JIS community truly is special. And it has been a critical part of my professional development to be a part of this community. And I don't use the term community lightly. And I think that can always be said of other academic journals, right?

Maybe in terms of their scope or just their mission is different, but some of the really unique aspects of JIS is that it is truly open access. You don't have to pay any subscription to, write in it to be a reviewer, to access it. All of it is free and open access. It really is powered by volunteers.

So no one is getting paid for their work. So that's why we are able to do things, essentially free, right? Some journals you may have to pay to submit, to publish a manuscript. I feel like it's become really a model journal in terms of the open access, but also the way that it is approaching research and the way that it is being very inclusive.

And I mean that in terms of its content, linguistically methodologically, it's really pushing the boundaries. There's a number of special issues that are written, in different languages, right. That are highly cited. And so, although English is the primary language of the journal, we really want to highlight the great work that's being done in many, many other languages.

So I think that those are some aspects of the journal that make it unique. If people want to join the community, maybe even, they're not ready to publish or they're not writing. There is a yearly open meeting that anyone can attend. And in that meeting, we talk about what's going on with the journal, some of the updates.

But also it's a place where people in the chat, it's on its own Zoom, just connect, and build relationships. Some of my most significant and meaningful professional relationships have come through my work in JIS. So as you mentioned, I started as a Production Editor. I was really able to see the backbone and the gut, so to speak of the journal, you know, from things as, migrating content and copying and pasting to get it on a new platform to editing, to working with authors, all of those aspects.

I was privileged to be a part of, and it really makes you appreciate all of the work when you read a journal article. Certainly, the authors put in a lot of work, but the editors, the reviewers, the systems that are used, we truly have a great community of volunteers that work to make JIS what it is.

And it's only about 11 years old, right? So it's achieved leaps and bounds and it's gone through a lot of changes and it's been led by several, visionary leaders and then we have a community there's several hundreds and frankly thousand strong. So it's been a big part of my professional development. And I think for anyone that's looking that is interested in international education research or higher education, it is a really great place to start and find your connections and, grow yourself as a scholar.

Asuka Ichikawa: Thank you so much, Natalie. Since this is the final episode of Season 1, it's really great to hear, the backstage of JIS and the community behind it. So thank you so much for speaking on behalf of the team.

 Zooming out of the whole JIS community, but zooming into your personal story from here, could I ask about your journey in becoming a scholar, in particular, what does it mean, in your words, to be a scholar practitioner in the field of international higher education?

Dr. Natalie Cruz: Absolutely. So, again, I think this idea of community keeps coming to my head and, in the work that I've done, even before becoming a scholar, so to speak right beginning to, to write and getting my PhD and research, um, I've always surrounded myself and tried to surround myself with people that, we can uplift each other.

We can spur each other on. So I think that my journey of becoming a scholar has kind of ebbed and flowed and I've been in and out of different circles within my professional careers, but still staying within this greater realm of higher education and international higher education. Um, and that's probably similar to a lot of people.

If you're listening to this podcast and you're interested in international education research, you've probably you know, studied abroad or you've lived, you worked abroad, you've had these different, really impactful experiences. So, you know, I've moved around, I've had different roles and each, each place I've lived, each person I've met each person I've, you know, had the privilege to, share their story through research, um, is really influenced who I am as a scholar and a professional.

 So in terms of my journey of becoming a scholar, I feel like kind of coming in back full circle in some ways, but this is one moment in time and I know that I will continue to evolve as we all do. But, my background is not inherently international, similar to us, listening to the other podcast with Dr. Mittelmeier. I would recommend people listen to that as well. Um, I came from a small town, in South Carolina that was not very diverse. Um, the first time I really met anyone from outside of the country was going to college. So meeting international students and then eventually studying abroad and volunteering in another country, all of those things really began to shape who I am as an adult.

Um, So once I kind of figured out, oh, there's higher education. You can work in higher education. You can work with students. Um, that really led me to, to working with international students, working with study abroad. And then I'm at Emory University currently. And I was here before and I had an assessment project and I took it really seriously.

And in hindsight, I basically was doing a research project, a research study. Uh, I didn't get IRB submission. I'm sorry. I didn't realize at the time I needed to, but I haven't published the work I don't intend to. So I, but I didn't even realize that was what I was doing. I was just gathering information and telling, you know, hearing the stories of international students. Um, so I, I, you know, I worked, I taught abroad in the United Arab Emirates. Um, I realized I want to have this opportunity to teach more. I want to have this opportunity research led me to a PhD program. And then now I was a faculty member for a short stint, but, I've really shifted back in terms of thinking about being a scholar practitioner of, really wanting to make an impact on kind of the processes and the systems and the partnerships of the university. So, there's a lot of value in, being embedded in the research. And I like to do that, but I also like to zoom out and have that greater, system impact at a particular university.

So, you know, I'm working on that balance of being a scholar, being a practitioner. I think there's a number people that I look up to and that are mentors that do a good job of this. There's even a book. If you're interested in scholar practitioner about international educators for international educators, I would recommend, you know, and just to kind of sum up, I think my work, um, being a practitioner really made me want to learn about the tools and tell the stories of international students in international education beyond what I saw in my individual experience. I wanted to connect it to the larger field. Publish it so that others could read it. But now, um, I also see being back in a practitioner role, we often have a lot of misconnections, right between scholar, practitioner, faculty, staff, academic student focus. A lot of those need to be bridged, right?

So we need to do a better job as a field of working on finding that balance and including those voices of people that are doing the work and collaborating with people that are doing the research. So kind of having these collaborations and utilizing people's strengths and the work that they're doing, and that also ties into making the work accessible and in a format that practitioners are going to read, right? So if you want this to be influencing their work, maybe a 28 page article may not always be the best way. And there's ways that you can distill your work down in a blog format in a white paper. Right? So don't just stop at the academic article if you are wanting practitioners to utilize your work.

Asuka Ichikawa: Thank you so much. I hear the keyword being the bridge and really making sure there's a connection between the research and people on the ground, who you really aim to serve. And so thank you so much for speaking your passion around there. I think it's really important to highlight that because, you can be a scholar in any role you choose and it's a very much transferable skill. And so thank you for that. Regarding the book that you mentioned, it'll be great if you could share, the title, the author, and we'll make sure to put the link or the note to this episode's webpage so that if folks are interested, they can check it out.

Dr. Natalie Cruz: Sure. Yeah. Um, I am just looking it up. 

Asuka Ichikawa: Yeah, no worries. 

Dr. Natalie Cruz: All right. So, so the book is entitled international higher education scholar practitioners, bridging research and practice, and it is written by Bernhard Streitwieser and Anthony Ogden.

Asuka Ichikawa: Wonderful. Thank you so much.

Asuka Ichikawa: Alright. In this podcast, we talk about the lived experiences of scholars beyond the articles or the papers that you might see, because being a scholar, as you mentioned, is one part of the multiple identities we hold. And so it'll be great if you could share any insights on how your intersectional identities shaped who you are, and how it informs the work that you do today.

Dr. Natalie Cruz: Absolutely. Well, I, I think that this is something that for all of us, probably. Your identities can evolve over your life, right? And you're, you can identify different ways in different context. So for me, I think, as I mentioned my upbringing, I was kind of the, the majority in some ways growing up and it really took getting out of my space to realize, to realize, oh, I do hold this identity, which seems kind of obvious, but when you're surrounded by people who are like you, you don't even take that second to understand who you are. So that really gives you that perspective of what other people are going through. Um, and so I think you see this also in research about international students, that oftentimes if they grew up in a country, that they were the majority and then they come to the U.S. Or to the U.K. And they say, wow, people are identifying me as this race or this culture, and I don't even identify myself that way. So I think that's really fascinating to how our identity can really evolve and, and change, um, in that way or our perspective. So I think the identities that have really impacted me the most that are probably relevant here are, my gender identifying as a woman and also as a parent or as a mother.

So I think that the biggest piece maybe that I can bring here and that I do like to share when I have the chance is about being a parent and being, um, in this, in this field. Right? So most of us are in the field of higher education in the field of international education or similar fields because we've been impacted by it we're passionate about the work that we do.

And oftentimes, when we are passionate about something, it's easy to kind of lose ourselves in our work. Right. And we're going through this really big renegotiation and coming out of COVID or in this stage of COVID that we're in where we're saying, wait a minute, do we really want our work to be our life?

Right. And so people are having these conversations. So I think, when you, you know, if you are a parent, a caregiver, that those kind of questions come up in different ways. So it's, it ties into the self care, right? That there's a lot of competition and there's a lot of, and some competition is good, but it's easy to compare yourself, um, to others and look at citation rates and look at output. Um, and think I'm not doing as much. I'm not doing good work. Right. So I think like having, having, you know, young kids has really forced me to think about, uh, but this is a question everyone should be asking themselves to whether they you know have, kids or not, is, is this the life that I want to lead? Is this the amount of work I should be doing?

Um, why am I doing this? What value? Um, am I contributing? What value am I bringing to the table? Am I giving to myself? Right. And finding people that have similar identities and lifestyles and being in community with them. So in particular, I've had a lot of great mentors that are males and they are parents, but, I, I, sometimes it's difficult to find, um, scholars that are females and also have kids.

And so that's something that I've looked for because it's just a whole different, a whole different balance and you think about things differently. So that has been really critical. And I would offer that to find, find a community of people that whatever your most salient identities are be in community with those people so that you can, you can share those experiences.

You know, in terms of the self- care, um, I think I'm really kind of on a re- discovery in this new role that I have, but a few pieces is that saying no is self-care is a form of self-care, and being intentional about why you're doing what you're doing and not tying saying to the person that you're saying no to, you're not saying no to that person.

You're not saying no to being helpful. When you say no to something, you're saying yes to yourself, you're saying yes to your family, you're saying yes to your hobbies, whatever it is. Right. So every time you say yes, you're saying no to something else, and really writing down and revisiting your goals and thinking about how, this new commitment you're taking on this new, program, this new article, um, does that help you achieve your goals or does it bring you joy? Right. If it's not really in line with your, your passions, your interests, if it's not helping you achieve your goals or bring you joy, why are you doing it?

Right? Those are important questions to help you prioritize yourself and your time. Um, and I totally recognize that it's often a privilege to be able to have those questions and have that time. Sometimes we're in period of our life where we just have to do what we have to do. We have to churn out articles to get the, you know, to maybe get a job, to make certain, you know, money that we have to, to live.

So I recognize that it's a privilege to be able to say no. But then think about what are some small ways that you can say yes to yourself, and, and keep your priorities and your goals in mind. I think those are some ways that I have, it's a continual process for me, but I'm trying to practice self-care through those ways.

Asuka Ichikawa: Thank you so much. This is a podcast, but I have been fiercely nodding throughout, throughout your response because, um, thank you again for generously sharing your personal experiences, especially on gender and being a parent. And, um, to sort of like taking the steps of self-care, as you mentioned to, uh, replenish yourself so that you can attend, what you're passionate about, but also supporting others.

And oftentimes it seems that, uh, people who are passionate about what we do, maybe prone to burnouts. So thank you for bringing that up and the gender parenting part was particularly the topic that I wanted to dive into with you. So thank you so much for sharing those perspectives.

Um, going into your role with JIS, could you, provide an overview of the cross-border narratives section that you're the section editor of.

Dr. Natalie Cruz: Yeah, well, I really love this aspect of the journal. It's a really unique, way that I think that people can share aspects about their life and their experience really grounded in, in theory, and still have this really rigorous aspect to it. So cross border narratives, formally known as study Abroad Reflections are, pieces, articles, approximately 1,000 to 2,500 words. And there are really reflections, on culture, language, people, and society. So the author or authors will usually tell some sort of experience. Some sort of narrative, of their own life. And they'll really weave it in, with theory with other research.

So it's not a, it doesn't have a traditional like literature review in the same way, but where it really, where it does go deeper is about where the person's story connects to theory. And there may not be a great fit, right. So, um, and this is why we are really pushing for, all sorts of people with different experiences to share.

So, people that come from marginalized backgrounds or where we haven't seen a lot of scholarly work. Those are really people that we want to hear from. And we understand that the theory that's out there may not really be relevant for you. So, that's a part that you could bring in as well. Like where can you find that, that piece where maybe in existing conceptual or theoretical framework, connects. And then where does it not right. Where does it end? So I think, the section used to be called Study Abroad Reflections, but our new name Cross Border Narratives really better captures what we're trying to achieve.

So we are the Journal of International Students, but, this really goes beyond that and thinks about people more as kind of sojourner, right? It's a term that we see in some of the earlier work around, culture shock and other, even some frameworks, we don't use as much anymore, but even if you're not a student and you're not officially enrolled, when you go to another place and you're engaging with people of different cultures, language, um, whatever the case may be, you really are learning and you're kind of a student in some way.

So you know, these pieces, what's really neat about these pieces. And I was able to, to write one when I was in my PhD program as well. Um, I was talking about my experience and wrote with a colleague about as international faculty and staff. Right. And how we used reflection to kind of adapt in our new environment.

So the section often attracts, students or early career scholars, but we encourage everyone to submit. And this is a good chance for you, to really step out if you've been conducting that research and think about what experience can I talk about? It's not an autoethnography. It's not, rigorous in that sense, but it goes through rigorous peer review.

It's really, how can you kind of critique your own experience too? Which can be, can be a challenge, but, it's a really great opportunity to get your story and your work into a scholarly journal. And it's a good starting point for a lot of people into their academic writing career.

Asuka Ichikawa: Mm-hmm. Regarding how to weave your personal experiences into a rather formal academic writing, um, for those who may hold questions about that, could you share any guidance on how you could do that?

Dr. Natalie Cruz: Yeah. Uh, that's a great question, Asuka. So I think that, um, it kind of similar to how we, when we have these meaningful experiences in our life, we continue to revisit them in different aspects. You know, it means one thing, right? When it happens and five years later, you reflect on, in a different way. So I think when you write a piece like this. There's kind of, there's different layers and there's different processes that you go through. So, um, you know, writing and thinking about your experience just in its pure format, what happened? Getting that out there and then starting to dig into the literature and see, are there research pieces, are there empirical pieces or other reflections that you can maybe see some sort of commonality?

So maybe you are writing about your experience. Um, really migrating, Going to another country and you're in a different religion, right? So that you had your own personal, very unique experience, but are there other, research articles, there are other reflection pieces out there that maybe you see some similarities, see how they approached it.

And then think about different, theoretical, aspects that you can really connect to your experience. And this is also a really good way to see how using different theories or conceptual foundations can really influence the type of writing that you do because your story may be, or someone's story may be about, um, gender, right.

But when you approach it may be from looking at it from race, it brings up all these other aspects of your experience. And think about how your experience can really be, translated and not translated literally to another language. But um, what big pieces of what takeaways do you want the reader to have?

So while you want to share your experience authentically and connected to the literature, what do you want the reader of this article to get out of it? Right. So you're going to continue to revisit your piece. And re- see it through different theories, see what insights it can bring, and don't be afraid when you receive edits or critiques, um, that's not critiquing who you are. That's not critiquing your experience. It's just, helping you to refine your writing and your voice so that you can make the most impact with your article.

Asuka Ichikawa: Thank you so much for that advice and especially the reviewing part is a whole another layer to it. Thank you for touching upon that because when you're writing about something that may be very close to your heart, um, whatever the reviewers, uh, may say, might sound very direct but it's always important to keep in mind, keep it in perspective that this is part of you, but then it is-- it is a writing and it is a scholarly work and you want to make it better. To make sure the why of what you're saying about the why message is clear to the audience. So thank you for that.

Um, and regarding sort of bringing your personal voice. Um, we often hear about finding your quote on quote voice, uh, in writing and in your view, uh, could you let us know what exactly – how you would interpret this voice? Could you point to any resources or share any experiences on developing your own voice? Uh, as you went through various publications, yourself and you were, uh, cultivating this.

Dr. Natalie Cruz: Yeah. So this idea of finding your voice, I think is really fascinating. I think it takes a bit of a different turn when you think about academic writing. So, finding the voice makes me think of, I was always fascinated by, these anonymous authored publications in history, where people are trying to figure out who it is that wrote this, and this idea that you're writing is so unique that someone could know it was you.

It was a particular author from the way you structure writing. I think that looks a little bit different in academic writing. And I kind of view it as the finding your voice as a scholar, is more about the research problems that you explore, the types of methodologies you use, the literature that you might choose to highlight.

And you know, when you think about a literature review in particular, yes, it should be comprehensive. It should cover, you know recent or foundational articles or um, those thoughts, but who are you? Who are you citing? Right. And who you're choosing to cite. And the voices you're choosing to highlight really also is helping you develop your voice.

So it's about kind of building your platform following your passion. And I think that voice develops over time. So in terms of, um, kind of practical tips. I think it's continuing to read many different types of publications. And I think this has come up in previous episodes as well as it's not just reading from JIS. Right. But, also developing your voice and reading other, fields, right. Hard sciences, fiction books, non-fiction books, biographies. I even like to write down specific phrases or ways of describing things that stand out to me. Right. So maybe I don't naturally say or describe things like that, but I think it was really relevant and meaningful the way they did it. Um, so hone in on your strengths. Be a part of a community where you can, share writing where, and have, you know, it's easy to, when you go and you critique as a reviewer to you read this, you're like, yeah, yeah, yeah, it's good. But you're only write comments on the things you maybe need, they need to change.

So as a reviewer or if you're critiquing someone's work, make sure you're writing the good things too. But if someone's reading your work, say, hey, um, definitely give me some edits, but tell me what's standing out to you, right? What are the pieces or the phrases or, where do you feel like my strengths are as an author?

And so getting different people's feedback can really help you continue to hone in because sometimes we don't even realize what's coming across that we're saying, right. So hone in on those strengths, and don't focus on fixing everything, but just what are you bringing to the table as an author and how can you continue to develop.

Asuka Ichikawa: Thank you so much. Uh, it really circles back to other episodes. As you mentioned about developing your perspectives or voice through engaging with the literature or authors before you who talked about the topic. And so thank you for mentioning how that meshing happens in this scholarly writing.

Regarding the writing process. How was the writing process for you as you were evolving as a writer across time in space, and if you wanted to share anything.

Dr. Natalie Cruz: Yeah. And to, to add on to what I said before and what I've always heard is, and what I really like is when you're writing or you're developing yourself as a scholar, you're really entering in a conversation, right. You may be writing about really novel, novel work, but you're continuing some sort of conversation.

So, you have to listen to how others are phrasing things, but not be limited by that. Right. So it's almost kind of this building and evolving. So in terms of how, you know, I have evolved, or developed myself as a writer and I love the phrase the time and space, the way you asked that. Um, so I think, you know, very practically speaking and to build on what's been, shared before in the podcast as well.

So for me, being organized and having some sort of digital system is really key. So this has helped me to understand, you know, who am I reading? What are the authors that keep coming up? What are these different keywords? Right. I use Mendeley. I know there's Zotero. There's Endnote. There's other systems.

I certainly am more of a product I guess, or have developed in the digital age where I do highlight, I don't print and highlight out, but I do, think very critically about the way that I take notes, the way that I comprehend and digest the articles. And that's really, influenced who I am as a writer.

So I'll highlight key phrases in the article, then I'll also write down it in another document in my own words. And then I would also say, I try to write after I read. Right? So when you read it kind of builds this momentum, you're seeing this, you start to get these ideas. So make time in your set, your writing and reading sessions where you can to write right after you've read, right. And, and to not be critical about what you're writing, but just that if you stop and you're like, oh, I've got to run to this other thing. You're going to lose that momentum. So a lot of writing is about momentum and leaning into the momentum that you get from reading. So sometimes if you do have to stop and you come back, I like to read back over my notes.

That I mentioned, I read, or maybe briefly skimming an article. It's kind of akin to like stretching or warming up before a race. It's kind of like this pre-work that you do before you start to write. So I also, I always like the tip about write before you're ready and don't edit as you write. So let these thoughts come free flowing.

I know it's when I sit down and it's the blinking cursor. Right. And, you know, I'm like, I've got to come up with a perfect title or the perfect introductory paragraph. No, you're, you're really harming yourself at the gecko, start in the middle, right. Start with a section. And it's like puzzle pieces that will come, come together.

So the last thing I'll say that's really helped me evolve as a writer. Um, and it connects back to what I said earlier is just about being in community and writing in community and researching in community. So even if you're working on a solo project, which aren't as fun in my opinion, I really like working with people and projects.

You spur each other along, but get a writing group, right? Find a group of people that you can pull up a Zoom call and turn off your mic and your camera, but you know, you're there writing. It holds you accountable. Right. So particularly for those solo projects where you only have yourself to hold accountable, be a part of those groups where you can, and you can share each other's work, you can help each other in that way.

And I like to put specific time on my calendar when I'm going to work on projects and really try to protect that time. So those were some practical tips, but also how it's really helped me to evolve as a writer and I hope that will be helpful for some people.

Asuka Ichikawa: Thank you. This is all amazing, especially how to keep that momentum, especially if you tend to wear many hats during the day, protecting your time, having that focus time. And I also very much resonated with the importance of community. Um, having had, the opportunity to work with you and Hannah in research teams, it's been really great to have sort of the solid accountability team. Um, but also, uh, as you mentioned, it can be a support group as well. Um, yes, and I very much, uh, yes. Would like to thank both of you for that support system as well. So you never know, I mean the writing group or the research group, maybe professional, but it could evolve into that kind of support group. So, uh, thank you for that.

Right. So thank you so much for all these stories and guidance, Natalie. I, I really appreciate it. So for the last question, if anyone would like to reach out to you or know more about your work, um, how can they get connected with you?

Dr. Natalie Cruz: Yeah, I would, I would strongly encourage that. If you're interested in the Cross Borderer Narrative, you don't have to ask me or run it by me, you can submit it, but, um, I've helped authors with kind of refining some ideas. And I'm just happy I love having conversations and chatting with people and hearing about your stories as well.

 So if anything I've said has resonated with you, or you want to talk more about getting involved with JIS um, there's a few different ways you can reach out to me. The best ways might be through LinkedIn or through Twitter or, Natalie dot Cruz at emory.edu is my email.

Asuka Ichikawa: Wonderful. Thank you so much. Um, and again, this wraps up the finale of Season One. So thank you so much for your time, Natalie.


JIS is an open-access journal that empowers the voices of international students around the world. We would like to thank the generous institutional sponsorship of the American Council on Education, Old Dominion University, and the publication partnership with Emerson College. 


For updates on the new episodes, please visit our website or Twitter [at] jistudents. To share your feedback please write to us at globalscholarstories@gmail.com



And this wraps up our Season 1 on academic writing! 

Through the personal stories of our guests, I hope you found some inspirations for your journey in becoming a scholar and for your current or next writing projects. 

We will go on a brief production break to prepare Season 2, so in the meantime, it’ll be great if you could support our program by writing reviews on our streaming sites such as Apple Podcasts. 

This was Asuka Ichikawa and we hope you’ll have a rejuvenating summer wherever you will be, and we look forward to reconnecting with you after the break. Thank you.