Introducing the Conversation Partners Program

Why hello there!

You may have noticed that I have not updated this blog in quite a while, although the tagline still reads, “Every Week.”  Truth is, a big project of mine is just about to come to fruition, so I have returned to WHOC to discuss it: the Conversation Partners Program.

What is the Conversation Partners Program?

Great question.

The Conversation Partners Program will provide Fairfield University students with intensive English Second Language (ESL) training without the stress of enrolling in a credited university course.  My idea for this program originally stemmed from my interview with an exchange student, an interaction that opened my eyes the burden of a language barrier.

This program will facilitate intercultural communication by connecting international students with native English speaking peers.  These domestic students will first receive TESOL training (teaching English to speakers of other languages), an education provided by an ESL instructor with 20 years of experience.

That pretty-looking flyer mentions a field trip to IKEA and New Haven, CT.  What is that all about?

A few things:

First off, IKEA tends to unite all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, religion, political party, or other cornerstone traits; People just love IKEA.

In all seriousness, downtown New Haven has not only the beautiful architecture of Yale University, but features also some of America’s greatest pizza.  As “language cannot survive without culture,” we will eat some grub and keep alive our passion for learning.  Plus, because this trip will occur at the tail-end of the semester, we will assist our ESL students with their final coursework.

How effective do you think this will actually be?

Whether this program will ‘hit it off’ from day one or collapse into utter chaos, I seek to answer a deeper question: “Why?”

Does this mean that your work on this blog will resume?

I continue to receive this question.

My answer: yes and no.

I evidently prioritize this Conversation Partners project for its potential to empower students.  Meanwhile, the intellectual and intercultural pursuits for which I designed this blog to track, discuss, and record, have enveloped this whole thing.

‘Till next time!

 

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Kristin Lynch: China and the U.S. have DIFFERENT Education-styles

I recently emailed a few questions to Kristin Lynch, the program manager at EduBoston: an international organization that connects (F1) [0]    Chinese-exchange students with host families, education, and a whole bunch of other programs in America.  (You can read the full interview here).

Annually, the number of Chinese students studying in the U.S. has grown.[1]   Clearly, these students must see some value in American education, otherwise they would not be arriving in such large numbers.

Lynch points out, “Perhaps the main reason parents want their children to study here and students want to come, is the different educational philosophy. Education in the U.S. is interactive and student-centered.  It is designed to encourage student inquiry, curiosity, analytical thinking, and a love of learning.”  Meanwhile, China has a “more rigid, teacher-centered education system, the signals can be confusing” which emphasizes listening, memorization and formal exams.

These views run contrary to news headlines.

Popular criticism: the U.S. education system is “lagging” behind China’s.2

Those who rank the world’s top school systems each year have concluded that America’s school system has fallen behind those in other countries during the past few years.  This assessment has sparked education reform and Common Core policies throughout the U.S. [3]  

However, the ranking systems’ metrics do not measure self-esteem, self-efficacy, creative thinking capacity, and other qualitative types of “brains.”

When American news perpetuates the fear that China will “overtake” the United States with their superior education system, they neglect a crucial fact:  If a student fails the Gao’Kao, China’s college-entrance standardized tests, they will not receive their high school diploma.  The Gao’Kao does not allow for second-tries or do-overs, so students face intense pressure from a young age to succeed, as failure means “no degree, poor job prospects and a life full of regret.”  This system has some nasty side-effects on the psyche of young students. [4]   

Many parents in China view America’s holistic education favorably.

Lynch notes that U.S. education places more emphasis on the individuality of each student: “[In America], many assignments involve choice, exploration of one’s own interests, and expression of one’s own ideas.”  Also noteworthy, participation in Chinese classrooms is discouraged while in the U.S. participation and class discussions form a portion of a students’ overall grade.

According to Lynch, more and more teachers are also using project-based learning to get students using academic knowledge and skills to make real things and solve real problems, “creating a stimulating, memorable, and confidence-building learning experience.”

The focus on the well-being and self-esteem of students’ compels many to pursue American schooling, even if China’s schooling yields higher test scores. “Many Chinese parents also recognize the value of sports and clubs… and they want their children to can participate in them.”  She also adds in that “activities, such as sports, clubs, music, and volunteering, allow students to explore, discover, and develop their interests and talents.”

So, what do you think? Feel free to email me at jesse.sachs@student.fairfield.edu or leave a comment.

 

If you are interested in EduBoston’s programs or hosting an international student, check out their website:  http://www.eduboston.com


[0]  An F1 visa, which differentiates from a J1, allows for a fuller, more long-term educational experience in America.

[1]  http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/nov/11/most-foreign-exchange-students-in-us-come-from-chi/

[2]  http://www.aft.org/news/us-students-still-lagging-international-assessments

[3]  http://asiasociety.org/education/global-roots-common-core-state-standards

[4]  http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/07/asia/china-gaokao-shen-lu

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Exams And Language Barriers

Dear readership, as the Fall 2017 semester reaches its ending, I am now publishing my Asian-studies related term papers here.

With Thanksgiving Break over, stomachs packed to capacity, and spiritual rejuvenation, the final-stretch of the semester has begun!  With multiple exams, research papers, and final projects on the horizon, students generally experience some elevated stress.  Though I’ve been super busy, I’ve kept reflecting on the omnipresent language barriers (again) faced by my exchange-student friends.  In particular, I worry a bit for the Freshman: 18 year old students readying for their first college exam cycle whilst juggling a foreign language.

Some basic considerations…

Although these students passed an English proficiency test to obtain their Student Visa to attend American universities, passing these standardized tests does not necessarily equate with fluency.  Just like the SAT or ACT, these tests have patterns and nuances which a test-taker can examine and study accordingly.  Who can blame them? If a foreigner intends on receiving an American education, why would they not approach a standardized test this way? As with all standardized tests, strategy is the name of the game. Unfortunately, this methodological approach does not guarantee ‘A’s.

Due to the Model Minority Stereotype, few truly consider that Chinese exchange-students face the same challenges as any American young adult. No nationality or ethnicity escapes naturally struggles like social adjustment, feuding with roommates, and procrastinating.  Thankfully, Fairfield University recognizes the importance of mental health and offers services to aid with adjustment, a process difficult enough in one’s native language.

Hopefully, the university’s faculty and leaders will sympathize with the exchange-students in particular.a

Whether they receive a semester or four years’ worth of American education, these students are still tuition-paying members of the community.  Accordingly, they deserve equal representation in the university’s development of on-campus resources.  In writing this, I appreciate that the commendable resources offered by the university dedicated to promoting students’ mental health.  Rather, I just pose the question:  How can our preexisting on-campus services specialize in exchange-students‘ well-being?

Please note: the school benefits when hundreds of exchange students–from all corners of the globe–rave to their families about the quality of Fairfield University.

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Language Barriers & Tutoring 3 Exchange Students

In this post, I intend to highlight some recent observations of mine involving language barriers. As a college student, proficiency in written and spoken language is necessary for learning and exchanging ideas, so taking college-level courses in a second language presents challenges. While the actual implications of a language barrier are multi-dimensional, meaning that it affects several different facets of life (e.g, education, career, self-image, socializing, etc.), my recent experience offers some valuable takeaways.

A Quick Summary Of Events:

At the beginning of the Fall 2016 semester, I led the International Students Orientation. Due to my moderate skill-level in speaking Mandarin, I befriended a few of the Chinese-exchange students. Last Thursday (11/3), I met with three of them in the university library to assist with homework. Two students were trying to understand an audio recording assigned by their Micro-Economics professor, as the third student struggled with a History research paper. After finishing the homework, we hung out, drew on white boards, and they taught me some new Chinese words. It was pretty fun.

Two Immediate Observations:

  1. The faculty at my school are relatively accommodating of foreign exchange students. Yet, the university could offer more support for these students in terms of ESL (English Second Language). One of my Chinese peers expressed how an ESL course constitutes an extra burden on top of her coursework, and desired a more informal set-up.
  2. These students have few American friends, but how come I am an exception? To them, my capacity in Mandarin Chinese makes me a sociable entity. Beyond that, my interest alone in Chinese culture means something to them. The comfort of a common language may explain why many Chinese students tend to stick together. However, I have observed that the Indian-exchange students who also face a language barrier tend to integrate themselves more than Chinese-exchange students. Cultural or linguistic factors may account for these different tendencies.

Food For Thought:

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“Thank You!”

How could Chinese students experience American culture if communication with English-speaking Americans is difficult? Four years of studying in America seems pretty meaningless if one is alienated from society a lot of the time. On the flip side, American students miss out on new experiences and ideas due to this same language barrier. From my experience, knowing how to speak a few simple phrases means a lot to foreigners. The little consideration to learn how to say “hello,” “thank you,” or “welcome!” goes a long way.

Although Fairfield University does a great job accommodating for the language barrier academically, how can the university help students improve their English outside of the classroom without the added pressure of commitment? For Americans, what actions the university faculty take to promote their budding Mandarin-Chinese program to more students?

What is it like to feel that language difference? I will probably only experience it next year in Beijing, where I have applied to study abroad.

Anyhow,

再聊!

(“Talk to you later!”)

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