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ESL “Summer Institute” Provides Chinese Students a Head Start

Hoping to keep as cool as possible amid near 100-degree temps, the class of 16 Chinese graduate students watches as video clips projected from weather.com play onscreen.

The image of triple-digit numbers scattered across the map of the U.S.A. lingers for a moment, before instructor Patricia Speers speaks.

“How hot will it be in Washington, D.C. today? What did the experts say you have to do when it gets hot?” asks the English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL)/academic skills counselor for Keuka College’s Center for Global Education. “What’s the ‘a/c’?”

“Air conditioning,” many reply in unison.

The morning class is part of two offered daily for six weeks this summer that are designed to acclimate incoming international students to the differences of classroom listening and speaking, and academic reading and writing in their second language – English. The program has been dubbed the ESL Summer Institute, and the Chinese graduate students and another seven undergraduates, including one Vietnamese student, who will enroll in Keuka business and management programs this fall, started classes July 11.

According to Vernon Larson, associate vice president, Center for Global Education, he and Dr. Gary Smith, vice president of the Center for Professional Studies, realized last year that the bright students coming from partner universities in China and Vietnam began fall classes without a transition, not just to immersion in the English language, but the unique culture of the American college classroom.

“Here, there is a lot of discussion, and in China, the teacher just tells us,” says Yao “Sophie” Sun, who will start a one-year program this fall to earn a Master of Science in management with a concentration in international business. Sun already earned a bachelor’s degree at Jimei University in Xiamen, one of the four partner schools offering Keuka degrees in China.

The transition away from a lecture format is one Sun enjoys.

“I can say my own idea to others and get others ideas to improve myself, so that’s good,” she says.

Huiwen “Ray” Lin agrees, stating that classes in China consist almost entirely of “listening to the teacher and taking notes. It’s more active here.”

Lin wants to work in investments after he earns his master’s. It takes a minute or two of dialogue with a reporter before they agree the word “trader” is the one that best fits the line of work he describes “where someone puts their money in a company and you use their money to make profits for them and only keep a little profit for yourself.”

After earning her master’s, Sun hopes to enter the sales field, explaining, “I like marketing, because it changes all the time and I love a challenge.”

According to Tamara Ingram, one of the summer institute instructors and an ESL instructor in Keuka’s Center for Global Education, the six-week program simulates the reading, writing, listening, and speaking tasks they’ll face in class come fall. Ingram helped design the summer program, which also provides some fun off-campus trips, including Niagara Falls and Watkins Glen. Another staffer in the Center for Global Education works with students on some of the campus cultural transitions, such as adjusting to new foods and the dining services setup, campus housing, and American recreational activities.

“We’re doing our best to work with these students so that they will be a little better prepared in the fall, and acclimate them to a more student-centered classroom,” Ingram says. Some of the students were identified in need of stronger academic support, and were required to attend, she adds, but most “opted to do it, because they wanted the extra preparation.”

The interactive format is one that Lin can see will serve him well in a future job.

“Maybe the company will open discussions where we’ll show our opinion and learn something different from others. It would be good for our skills and good for a company if we can talk about topics and find the best answer, the best solution,” he describes.

ESL/Academic Skills Coordinator Patricia Speers leads a recent summer institute class at Keuka College for 16 Chinese graduate students

The students put a bit of class discussion to the test right then and there, responding aloud to Speers’ question about what experts recommend they do when it’s so hot outside.

“Drink water.” “Take a shower.” “Stay inside – don’t go out.” The answers pop up from students in different seats. Speers smiles when one young woman suggests staying in the air-conditioned library until it closes at 4:30 p.m.

“And then you can take the shuttle, go to Penn Yan and stay in a store,” Speers says, as a few chuckles echo around the room.

One Response to ESL “Summer Institute” Provides Chinese Students a Head Start

  1. Hien Pham says:

    I am really glad that Keuka had a lot of students attend ESL before really taking American academic class. This program is like a cushion for international students deal with language challenges during the fall semester. Hope they enjoy summer in Keuka.

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