Going to college can bring up a bit of anxiety in any student. But for international students, especially those whose primary language is other than English, the worry can be even greater.
This is why the English Language Center was established at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1979. The center helps teach English to international students from beginner to advanced levels. Classes are open to anyone interested in preparing to enroll in a university. More than 1,400 students from 60 countries have taken their courses and subsequently earned a degree from RIT.
“Learning to use a language at the university level is very different from using it to go shopping,” said Stan Van Horn, the director of the center. “Most of the students in our classes speak English very well. They now have a perfect command of English and must reach an academic level. »
International students wishing to apply to a university in the United States, including RIT, must demonstrate proficiency in English. If their scores are not high enough, English classes may be required before they can be accepted into a college.
Not all colleges offer such courses to international students. At RIT, some students may take only the English Language Center course, others may take one or two other courses in addition to their English course, and other students may be accepted into an honors or honors program. higher education.
The center, on the second floor of Monroe Room, offers a range of courses, for beginner English speakers, intermediate and advanced English courses. Topics include casual speaking, academic speaking, academic writing and reading, and linguistic analysis.
There are distinct courses designed to enable undergraduate and graduate students to succeed in a college environment.
“If you come from a different educational culture, you may not be familiar with communication standards in the United States, or how language is actually used in the classroom or social setting,” Van Horn said. “We take writing skills for granted. When graduate students have to read a research paper, if they are unfamiliar with the format, they might misinterpret the thesis or what the main point is.
Van Horn said even educational culture varies across the world.
“In the United States, when a professor asks questions, they are often looking for discussion, students’ opinions, not a right answer or a yes or no answer,” he said. “It can be a challenge for students to enter a new culture, with a new language and with different ways of interpreting and interacting. In our classes, students can practice them.
He said most students, no matter where they come from, need to learn new ways to communicate in academia, such as giving and receiving criticism. “If you’re doing this in a new culture and a new language, it’s a complex change.”
Lynn Shen, originally from China, received a bachelor’s degree in accessory design from Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology. She then wanted to learn jewelry design at a university in the United States. She tried to learn English at home, but the lessons were too fast and there was too much to understand at once, she said.
Then she heard about RIT MFA in Metal and Jewelry Design program and learned that RIT offered English courses for international students.
“At first I felt uncomfortable talking to people here, I wasn’t sure if my English was good enough,” she said. “My mother was really worried about my English, but the English Language Center helped me a lot. And I feel happy.
She is one of a dozen students this semester taking a course with Christopher Kausch II, specialist in applied linguistics at the center. It teaches vocabulary and how to ask questions of a stranger, which will help them build their confidence in using English to connect with others.
For example, her students participated in a scavenger hunt and asked questions of strangers. Another asked them to ask strangers what they were grateful for this Thanksgiving season. Shen found student volunteers at the Fireside and Commuter lounges.
On Halloween, students learned about superstitions and traditions, including the history of black cats, the use of cauldrons, and the meaning of the term “Jack-O-Lantern.” Sometimes students would break into small groups to discuss topics, such as when they had received a treat or been tricked in some way.
Outside of classes, the center hosts dances, workshops or presentations on Thursdays. The students also participated in Into the Roc Travel at the Rochester Public Market and other locations. Many have also visited Niagara Falls on excursions with RIT Global. A picnic and bowling outing is also in preparation.
“We want them to feel comfortable speaking outside of the English Language Center, if they want to talk with friends, order coffee from a barista, or even at the financial aid office and pay their bills ” Kausch said.
Students must keep a diary, or diary, with at least two entries per week, demonstrating how they used English to connect with others.
Kausch said the program helps many international students integrate into college life in the United States. “Basically what we do here is a semester-long integration, developing social skills to become familiar with the university environment and feel comfortable around others,” he said.
Rahmat, who does not have a last name, first left his native Indonesia in late August, when he made a 33-hour journey to Rochester via Sydney; Los Angeles; Dallas; and Charlotte, North Carolina. He is pursuing general studies at RIT’s College of Liberal Arts and hopes to eventually become a university professor in his country.
“At first, I didn’t know which campus I wanted to apply to,” Rahmat said. “All I wanted to do was go to the United States. I chose RIT because of the English proficiency courses it offers.”
He also takes two courses in anthropology and economics, unrelated to his major. At first, he was disappointed because he wanted to take more academic courses. “However, after two weeks of classes, I think I really need the English course because it is very related to my major in my home country.”
Thanks to the course, Rahmat said he now writes English better, understands more American slang and is learning to make new friends.
Van Horn is one of six members of the department who teach these courses. All have lived abroad for a long time. He sees the trust and camaraderie the students have developed, finding commonalities within their diversity.
“The world comes to RIT and we are fortunate to be able to work with them all the time,” he said. “There are so many hotspots now, it’s wonderful that we have international students traveling around the world to study elsewhere. Learning in a new language also leads to great depth in cultural understanding, and this goes a long way in bringing these students together to promote cultural understanding.