I traveled on Saturday, April 13, 2013, to Virginia Tech to attend the Virginia Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (VATESOL) SouthWest Regional Conference. I was accompanying Kristen Shrewsbury, Shirley Yang, and Talat Altayyar, who would all be presenting at the conference. While I was not sure what to expect, I was excited at the notion of learning more about what experts in the field of TESOL had to say about a variety of different topics. As a peer tutor for the James Madison University Writing Center, I have some experience with working with English Language Learners. However, once I began to observe Kristen’s sessions, my understanding of tutoring techniques had grown exponentially, and I looked forward to supplementing this understanding with information from the conference.
The first seminar (given by Caitlin Capone of the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute) was about second language anxiety (SLA), how a teacher or professor would go about identifying whether a student had symptoms of SLA, how to avoid giving students SLA, and how to make students suffering from SLA become more confident in their second language abilities. The important lesson that I learned from Ms. Capone was that teachers and professors have a profound impact on whether ELL students feel comfortable speaking in their second language, not only in classrooms, but outside of them as well. If a student is consistently afraid of being corrected, or even penalized, by a professor for incorrect grammar or the inability to understand a certain language concept, this could keep them from trying to speak in the language at all. Ms. Capone argued that in a real-world setting, it is unlikely that a native speaker would correct a non-native speaker mid-sentence, if at all. Students should not feel ashamed or embarrassed to make mistakes while speaking in their second languages, because all new learners of every subject experience uncertainty. The more they practice, the better they will get, and a condescending or uninterested professor could do immeasurable damage to the self-esteem of an ELL student.
The second seminar that I attended was the one in which Kristen, Shirley, and Talat were presenting, along with Ahmad Abdul Ali. Their presentation was on JMU’s Multilingual Writer’s Community (MWC), and the impact that blog writing has made on ELL students. Kristen gave an overview of the MWC, while Shirley, Talat, and Ahmad (all English Language Learners) gave testimonials on how the MWC has helped them grow as English speakers and writers. All of the ELL students agreed that the free-writing exercises they participate in during the MWC help them not only gain confidence in their own writing skills, but also allow them to learn from each other and gain new perspectives. Before this conference, I was aware that the MWC blog existed, but I had never heard testimonials of how this type of media was helpful to those utilizing it. Hearing how blog writing in a setting where the writers can receive immediate feedback from others reinforced that supplemental learning outside of the classroom can give ELL students much more practice and confidence in their own abilities, something that may not occur when those students are in their official coursework.
I feel as though I benefitted greatly from attending the VATESOL Conference. I gained new perspectives on certain topics and got to know a few ELL students from my school that I did not know before. Learning from them about their experiences will help me become a better peer tutor, and I am more confident in working with English Language Learners in a writing center setting than I was before attending this conference.
Before I attend to James Madison University I was in an English school in Houston, TX, to improve my English and to be able to attend an American university. I stayed for 9 months learning English then I moved to Harrisonburg, VA, to start my bachelor degree in computer science at JMU. My first week was hard. I felt I didn’t understand what is going on around me so, I was concerned about my English very much. I went to my academic advisor office and told her that I will not be able to be a good academic student in my classes because my English and especially my writing is not good. I want be in English school for more time. She saw that my English while we are talking is not that bad and that might be just fear about being an academic student. She recommend me to visit the Multilingual Writers’ Community and there my writing will improve.
There are many reasons for me to come to the Multilingual Writers’ Community. The English that I learned in my country or in the English school in Houston helped me to understand most of what other people are saying and helped me to know how to write. In fact, as an academic student it is important not only to know how to write, but it is to know how to write academically. In the Multilingual Writers’ Community I really learned how to write academically and I really found that my way in writing is informal and is not the type of writing that I should hand in to my professors. Not all these previous reasons for me to come to the Multilingual Writers’ Community, But also here I am learning how American people write a good paper and this is important. For example in my country and in my old school I learned to write a general information in any introduction for any essay, but in the Multilingual Writers’ Community I learned that is what professors expect from students in America is to get to the point directly and not to write obvious things.
It is nice to post what I am writing in the blog for many reasons. First, it is good to show my family how their son is working hard and his writing skills are improving in time. Second, when you are writing and thinking that what you write will be in the blog that makes me write much better than if I knew that I will just write to show one person. By thinking about writing better makes me ask a lot of questions about spelling and grammar and here I learn more. Finally, it is also good to write in the blog because you are posting different kind of topics and these topic might help people who have the same fear that I had before first I came to Harrisonburg.
Also, I want to mention that in the Multilingual Writers’ Community I work with a professional and other students and this is one of the greatest things that help me to learn how to write better. Working with partners is such a good thing because my partners and I can learn from each other and what I mean by that is to give advice to each other.
My family came to US as refugees and I needed to learn English in order to integrate and succeed in the society. I learned the basics of the English language in community college and when I started JMU I still needed to improve it further. I started seeking resources that I could utilize to help me with college level English. I have discovered that JMU had a writing center, where I used to go a lot to get help. That is where I met Kristen who had special touch interacting with international students and students whose native language was not English. She worked with several other students who also wanted to improve their English skills and we organized a meeting time and start meeting on regular basis. That’s how we started Multilingual Writers’ Community. I joined MWC my first year of college and was active member until I graduated.
By joining MWC my goal was to improve my writing which I ultimately achieved. However, there were so many other benefits that came from MWC and it will take me all day to list all of them. For instance, at the end of our meetings we used to read our essays to each other, where we all commented on grammatical error and anything else that needed to be improved. As we went through this exercise we learned from each other and our writing improved every time. Personally, I am still learning English and adapting to American culture and MWC was a great opportunity to expand my knowledge about American cultural as well other cultures. In our meeting we had students from different countries and it was always exciting to hear each other background. Also our small conversation/discussion that we had during our group meetings helped me to communicate better with my peers. First two years of my undergraduate I did free writing, however as I entered my junior year more and more of my free time was occupied working on application for medical school that required great deal of work. Each school had their own specific essay questions pertaining to their school. Also as honor student I needed to write my thesis in order to finish my honor program, which also put pressure on my free time. Those two years I missed free writing but on other hand I did a lot of academic oriented writing which I learned a great deal from.
MWC definitely helped to expand my writing skills and also improve my critical thinking skills. As a result of being involved with MWC I feel better prepared on my field of studies because it gives an upper hand when it comes writing research paper or reviewing scientific articles. I am glad that I joined MWC and encourage others to take full advantages of the benefits it offers to students.
Ahmad is currently completing a post baccalaureate year at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine.
- Why you coming here every week to practice writing? How’s the experience writing with other peers as well as professionals?
At the beginning of my freshman year, I was worried about my writing class. My classmates are all American, the first language user. Every time when the professors asked us to write something, I was frowning because I was hardly ever write down more than few lines while my classmates already have done one page. I told my concern to my professor. Luckily, she recommended me go to this place to meet Kristen. After class, I came back to home and sent her an email right away.
When I met with Kristen, I realize the writing community is such a great place to practice writing. In China, we have this saying, “practice makes perfect”. After I came here several times, I feel writing session is the place where I can practice my weakness to improve my writing skills. After I finished my writing piece, everyone will read aloud, I feel when I read them, sometimes, I could automatically correct mistakes by myself. That’s the nice thing when I practice more. Another reason I wanna mention is most of my peers in the writing community are international students. When I practice writing with my peers, I don’t have too much pressure unlike my American classmates. Sometimes, students from other culture group may offer an unique idea.
- What’s the motivation you post online? Some students feel fear about posting online.
Actually, I don’t really feel fear when others see my posting online. I think it’s a place to share your work. It’s a place to recognize my writing. I have written so many posts so far. Some of them are about my class experiences, some of them are about culture differences. One post was even about how I was shocked about the way american eat veggies. It’s a casual place to express my ideas from a different perspective.
- How work online impact other students?
The impacts can be different forms. For example, it may encourage more students like us to work online. Hopefully, they will join us. Also, the posting content could give readers a view about how other students think about JMU or America overall. I remember one day, my friend said to me that she read my writing online on the blog. She said it’s a great post. I suddenly feel a sense of accomplishments. That encourage me to practice more.
Even though I feel more confident than old me when just enrolled in JMU last semester, the confidence just fades away when communicating in academic forms. The first semester of sophomore year, I have started taking some fundamental business classes as my step stone to the major. Professors’ teaching style is kind of special because he likes to put students at the center. The more you contribute to the class discussion, the more participation points you will get. It is convenient when you have problems. The way to solve it is by mentioning questions in the class and then professor guides students to think and talk about the problems.
I realize that having a problem in the homework is normal but doubting myself is distracting. I remember one time, I asked the question in the office hour. My Professor said it’s a great question and he encouraged me to ask it again in the class. He asked me if I could do that, I said yes without doubt. In the class, when he turned to me and said, “I remember you have a question”, and then I felt everyone is waiting for me to ask. I asked that question but my heart was pounding after I finished the asking. When the teacher answering the question, I feel as if someone in my head starts questioning me: are there any mistakes in your sentences? Professor already approves that question, so it’s not a dumb question. What do other American students think? All of the questions in my mind are distracting me.
The reason why I’m so nervous when I asked the question in the class is partly because I am afraid of being judged. Not only judging language imperfect, but also the mistakes I made. When professor asked which quiz questions we want to discuss, I figured only students who get higher points are willing to pull up their results in the class. When his or her quizzes show on the screen, everyone could see how the students did in the quiz. This way pushes me to be quiet in the class.
Another reason maybe because of different teaching style. I still remembered in my high school, teacher always acted as the main role in the class. Even though the learning style is passive, I like it because I only need to listen. When I have a question, I would save it and asking my teacher in the office hour. Now, I still follow the same rule that is going to my professor’s office to ask question.
When I went to professor’s office, I asked my question and he asked my why I don’t like mention it to the class. I expressed my concern to him. He said he understood it and he thought the way of reviewing quiz is helpful for the exam. Doing well in the quiz doesn’t mean you will do well in the exam. The more mistakes you made in the quiz, the more questions you should mention in the class. I guess our students put too much interpretation on how much points we get from the quiz while no one really care how exam and quiz actually function.
I can’t believe it has been three years. Three years. That is one year short of a presidential term. Yes, it is hard to believe I have been working at the ELLS for so long, yet It all makes sense in retrospect. I have worked at the learning centers since sophomore year, back when I lived in a tiny apartment (yet waaaaaaaaay cleaner than my current house) and my parent’s had just given me my bicycle as an early birthday present. Kristen still had her office in Wilson Hall, and she did not know yet that she was allergic the the iconic building. It was back in that office where I had my very first job interview, and yes, fortunately I scored the job.
It was Friday November the 9th, and I was getting recognized for being a valuable tutor. I had never thought of myself as “valuable” or “outstanding”, let alone a “servant leader”, and yet as I was being recognized in the tutor recognition ceremony, I couldn’t help but to feel a little sense of pride on myself. Not selfish pride, rather something along the lines of a more healthy feeling–perhaps, content. Working at the ELLS has been a great opportunity for me to grow as an individual, as a student and as a future professional. I’ve presented at conferences, I’ve ridden a train to Baltimore in “business casual” attire, I have talked with the Deans of JMU, I have represented the learning centers at multiple events and trust me, it all feels pretty good.
And yet, the award is not all about me. I have to thank JMU and the Learning Centers and Kristen for being quite simply: awesome. I wouldn’t have done any all of those things if it had not been for the opportunity they gave me to embody one of the roles I admire the most : that of a teacher.
And so to that I say, thank you. Thanks to all who have come to me eager to learn something new. No award means more than an honest “thank you” at 6 PM when the lights of Taylor Down Under have dimmed and It’s time to pack up my “English Conversation Club” sign within the messy insides of my backpack.
Congratulations goes out to Jose Morales Mendizabal, ELLS’ Bilingual Student Liaison, for earning an Excellence in Tutoring award! Jose’s service to ELLS spans 3 academic years, in which he earned Dean’s List academic status and dedicated over 460 hours to ELLS. Jose’s contributions to ELLS include:
· Participated in the Colonial Academic Alliance Student Affairs Professional Exchange, visiting George Mason University in March 2010
· Modeled from a GMU program he witnessed on the CAA exchange at GMU, created English Conversation Club for English language learners to practice conversing with English speakers and discuss cultural differences and similarities. This program has been active over 4 semesters, meeting twice a week and attracting students who otherwise do not utilize English Language Learner Services.
· Participated in the LC Internal Program Review
· Represented LC and ELL at the 11-12 Academic Council Presentation
· Represented LC & ELL at CHOICES
· Presented a poster at the Colonial Academic Alliance Global Education Conference 2012
· Collaborated with University Advising to participate in outreach panels for Study Group students
· Presents ELLS programs to academic classes
· 460+ tutoring hours logged to-date
The annual Tutoring in Excellence award is in its inaugural year and honored 33 of the 600+ peer educators that the JMU Learning Centers have employed since 2006. Award recipients were presented letters of achievement from President Alger, for President’s List, or Senior AVP Randy Mitchell, for Dean’s List, and a letter of appreciation from the peer educators’ supervisor at a banquet held in the Montpellier Room on Friday, November 9, 2012. The recipients names are commemorated on an awards plaque that will be hung in Wilson Hall until the Learning Centers move to Constitution Hall upon its completion in fall 2014.
If you have had the pleasure of working with Jose, or if you are just meeting him for the first time, please join me in congratulating him on his award!
Here at the English Language Learner Services we love to help you with your English communication skills. Whether is written or spoken, we have a program or resource to help you as a student thrive in the English language, and succeed by applying it academically. When we think of language we think conversations and cahtter; we think books and presentations. And these associations are all by no means incorrect but sometimes we tend to overlook an equally important dimension of language communication–non-verbal communication or body language.
I think we tend to overlook the importance of body language since it’s as natural as it is automatic. Body language lacks grammar for it does not need one. “Grammatically” speaking, body language across the human species is universal. That is to say that someone from China and someone from Brazil will probably perceive as sad someone who appears to be crying. Also, people from complete different cultures perceive similarly bodily positions of authority, protection and emotion. We can all sense when someone is shy, nervous, outgoing or feels powerful. And yet, I had never thought of the importance of non-verbal language in everyday communication.
Last week however, I was browsing TED talks on TED.COM (I highly recommend visiting this site) and stumbled upon a great talk by Harvard proffesor Amy Cudy titled “Your Body Language Shapes who you are”. This talk opened my eyes to the amazing world of pyschology and the profound results attained lately in the field of body language communication. In her talk, Dr. Cuddy talks about how we can shape people’s perceptions of ourselves by just changing our body language. Many students have come to me with questions about how to interact in proffesional settings, whether it is a business reception or a job interview. I usually just tell them to be confident and natural when they speak; but I often forget that confidence can’t only be communicated by one’s tone of voice, we have to look confident to be perceived as confident. Our body language needs to speak for us too. We need to appear receptive and powerful, yet inviting. I know all these concepts seem rather abstaract just by eading about it, and I am probably doing a terrible job at explaining Dr. Cuddy’s research, but I really encourage you to watch this inspiring talk and learn how your non-verbal language can enhance and help you communicate even more effectively what you are wishing to verbally convey. So click on the video below and enjoy!
“Ok, that’s it for today, thanks everyone. Have a good weekend.” After Dr.Wang says that, I take a deep breath and start packing with an excited mood. My friends are waiting for me and we will go to UREC to swim. After five days being bombarded with assignments, finally I can have a short rest. Short rest, it is only half Friday afternoon. You may think there is a whole weekend waiting for me. But I have to disagree with you, a weekend with dozens of homework and preparation for the incoming tests of next week, that’s not called weekend. I don’t want to worry too much because the reality is there no matter whether I’m concern or uncertain. That’s the mission for us students, college students.
Actually, this makes me think. The mood of looking forward to Friday, the pressure of different due days from different courses, the constant updated blackboard announcements bring me back to my high school. The high school where I studied in China is highly reputed in my hometown. The number of students who got into Tsinghua University, which ranks the top in China, is quite high compared with other schools. The competitive environment makes students breathless. I still remember my school routine, getting up at 6:30am and arriving school at 7:20am, going back to home at 10:00pm which sounds pretty insane. Thinking back to my horrible high school time, I am more relieved and satisfied with current college life in JMU even though I suffer the same study pressure.
Every job has missions; everyone has their own difficulties when they are eager to conquer tasks. We students are not exceptional. I just think this weekend is going to be a study weekend and Carrier is going to be my place. I just want to say this schedule brings me back to my high school time. It is kind of like self-comfort, but anyway, I am ready to go for it!!
This past Monday I held the first English Conversation Club meeting of the year (by the way, If you’re reading this and want to improve your speaking skills I would highly recommend coming down and hanging out!) and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the bulk e-mail advertising my service worked! Two fine young men approached me that cloudy afternoon, looking for help and advice to improve their conversation skills; and so I asked them to sit down and we got to it.
As our conversation progressed, I noticed that their English was not in any way elementary; their sentences were well constructed and the pace in which they articulated their thoughts was very much average. I began to think that maybe they didn’t need my help, that maybe they would get bored because they wouldn’t learn anything new from me. I thought, perhaps I should tell them to just watch movies and they would learn new words that way; but before I could reach a concrete advice for them in regards to their speaking, one of the guys interrupted me and was very forward about what he needed help with.
“I would like to be able to explain things better” was what he told me. Confused I asked him to, ironically, explain himself, to what he elaborated a little further and told me that he wishes he could be more creative when he talked. His was not a matter of verb conjugations or tense concordance but a matter of confidence and exploration of the English language. Looking retrospectively at my own English language learning experience, I—somewhat conceitedly—admit I have done a great job at exploiting my linguistic abilities; but how did I achieve such a high level of prose and proficiency in my language? Why is it that I can now write a poem a fictional story not only without a problem but also with a deeply personal catharsis?
I think the answer to those questions rely on two important personal factors: the depth of your linguistic immersion and the confidence to just talk without dreading mistakes. I always tell students to immerse themselves in the language as much as they possibly can in as many media as they can. Personally I think books and literature are a great way to explore both the abstract and concrete capabilities of a language, and movies are a great way to learn how to engage in a somewhat average conversation.
The confidence bit is not as easy, however, for it needs motivation and fearlessness. I remember when I moved to the United States that I made many silly mistakes when talking to my American peers. And the crazy thing is that, despite my funny mistakes, they understood why they happened. People usually know you are not from Alabama or California and they expect your English to contain some minor mistakes but do not worry, they won’t judge you, in fact they night even help you! these mistakes will happen and they will make you feel slightly embarrassed but they will also be your greatest teachers.
It is not unusual for me to catch myself deep in reflective awe of the beautifully profound underpinnings of education. The sole process of it excites me. Education, to me, is the way our species transmit their cultural and intellectual consciousness across media and through time. From this perspective, the economics and policies of education lose their conventional place to a modern blurry abstraction; education becomes something more natural and inherently human rather than just another policy or statistic.
On June 28th and 29th I had the great opportunity to be part of the CAA Global Education Conference which reminded me of the intellectual altruism that binds collegiate staff and educators. The conference consisted of a variety of talks geared at a specific area within global education. I attended a combination of talks that ranged from international student services to English language teaching and I was amazed by the level of professionalism shown by some of the faculty that presented. I loved the enthusiasm they had presenting and sharing ideas to other faculty and how they discussed educational issues to hear the opinion of other educators from a different institutional perspective.
As the conference went on, I learned many tips that I will try out next semester with English Conversation Club, but I also taught other educators about my experience with the ECC. I absolutely loved answering all their questions and concerns. Many schools have conversation programs for international students, but they tend to stick with the one-on-one model which either works or fails if the relationship of the conversation partners does not work out. They were interested in the English Conversation Club as an alternative to their conversation programs because they liked how it operated and thrived within a low-pressure environment, and with a group open to a broad cultural discussion without the need of a common language learning interest (from part of the native speaker). Hopefully there will be more versions of my English Conversation Club in the CAA or maybe even abroad!
Attending and presenting at the CAA Global education conference taught me valuable lessons and gave me insight into the academic world ahead of me. I returned home admiring how hard many professors work to foster education and how important and honorable it is to partake in the collective effort of strengthening the human knowledge as an educator, simply by letting others know what you know.
Summer consultations have taken a new shape for ELLS this year. When a few students were heading abroad and taking online JMU classes this May, I was excited to try using Skype and Google docs for consultations. We set up times to meet via email and then both logged onto Skype for the appointment.
The sessions were interesting because they were often held first thing in the morning for me to adjust for time differences. My students got to see my extensive collection of coffee mugs! We had a coffee mug toast this morning to commemorate our last consultation of May session. My mug boasted Chinese traditional calligraphy and the student’s mug said in English, “Behind any successful woman is large amounts of coffee.” Once we decided to reschedule because our appointment time was on Friday night in China and there was a pop concert that the student really wanted to attend. What dedication to even make a Friday night appointment to begin with! Of course, I did not mind rescheduling as I then got to sleep in Friday morning
An interesting challenge we did not anticipate was that the Chinese government has blocked access to Google accounts for people in country. After one session of frustration using an emailed Word Doc, we felt motivated to find a way to access Google. The JMU VPN download allowed the student from inside China to access the JMU server and then from there log into Google. Our tech savvy might not have improved much overall, but our achievement made our consultations a lot smoother.
Thanks to ambitious students and technology that allowed us to connect, I had the unique opportunity this May Session to facilitate 9 virtual consultations with students in China and Saudi Arabia. I love the flexibility this allows me to continue to support our awesome JMU students taking online classes from home. Though I am closing up shop for the summer vacation, I look forward to more virtual consultations next May!
Writing in College:
A New Change for Us
BY Shirley Yang
As we get off the airplane, carrying our heavy luggage into this new country, we know everything will be different from our home country. What we hear, read, speak, and write will be changed from our native language to English. Since our first language is not English, the grammar and sentences structure is so different. The ways we use English tend to be rigid, especially when we put the language to written expression. Thus, writing in college may become a potential problem for international students. But from the experience I have gained in my writing class my first semester, I have found that writing is not too complicated as long as we can find effective solutions to handle the issues.
In college, many classes require a high process of writing. When we did our writing in the English-learning Center to prepare us for studying in a university, only one final version can decide a person’s writing ability. However, the process of writing in a university setting is a way to show how writing can build up step by step. When I prepare my writing, I just randomly write anything on a piece of paper not worrying about grammar at that time. This beginning stage is called “free writing,” which is just a spew of any thoughts on a given topic. After the first stage, we can build up a basic structure, organizing the essay. Then we begin writing the first rough drafts. This process can be problematic, messy, or even shitty. The process is usually tedious and even frustrating, especially if it has been revised several times. But we should believe that every time drafts are refined, it means it’s getting closer to the final fine-tuned version. In terms of language and grammar, I usually stress about it in the final stage of drafting an essay, because the focus of writing first drafts should be the process of formulating ideas and organization rather than the language proficiency.
Before we start the writing process, consider the intentional audience who will be influenced by your writing. That is the biggest difference from our previous writing experiences as international students. The purpose of writing has changed. We are no longer using English sentences to impress teachers with our proficient writing skills we have obtained. Instead, it is important to make those sentences work together to let people who read your essay think. In other words, we put our skills to the test. When I write my essay about studying abroad, I assume that my intentional audience is the young students who are planning study abroad after they graduate from high school. However, after discussing with the faculty of the Writing Center, I realized that I only argued about how studying abroad will benefit students of all ages. Thus, when writing an essay, establishing a bridge with the people who will read my essay is highly essential to college writing.
After considering the importance of the audience, using personal experiences to support an argument is another international difference from our previous writing classes. In college writing, using personal experience by using “I” is more convincing and it is an approach to build the relationship with the audience. For example, the second essay that I wrote for the writing center, I used my own experiences as one of the reliable resources to support my ideas in order to encourage my readers to take action. The research was conducted by Jia-Ying Lee, which shows the learning differences due to cultural variety. The students from Asian areas usually regard themselves as part of a group. Therefore, their work is usually operated in an interdependent form. Personal opinion or experiences are less mentioned in group working (76). Since we are here, American culture proves to be very different. Individual opinion is highly encouraged as long as it comes with the strong argument opposed to collective understanding.
Even though using personal experiences is beneficial for a persuasive essay, finding credible information by conducting extensive research can make an argument even more effective. Doing research on a specific area or topic is not as simple as typing the main topic into Google. As a freshman, making full use of the library resources is an ideal way to explore points. Asking the reference table or chatting with the librarians throughout the library website is really helpful when you feel confused with different types of citation styles or feel get lost when it comes to locating a book effectively. From my annotated bibliography assignment, I have talked to a librarian who works in the writing center. She has extensive knowledge about different references and even has recommended books to me on occasion. These learning resources are useful for many different areas of study.
After doing a thorough research, citing references correctly is a crucial requirement for any research assignment. But before we came here, no matter which educational level we are at, we had no idea that incorrect usage of resources may lead to academic plagiarism. However, the reason why we were confused about citation style is because of the culture we belong to. In Western culture, the importance of intellectual property is highlighted. Once you use someone else’s thoughts, be sure to cite it correctly by the required citation styles in various style manuals. I was confused and lost when I saw the MLA requirements for my resources. It became even more puzzling when I used a variety of sources. However, after I finished all my writing, citation is a normal and easy procedure to add with help from manuals and librarians.
During the different writing stages, you are not alone. The first time, you may feel that the new learning style and new requirements are puzzling and confusing. It takes time to adapt to a new environment. International students may have unexpected culture shock when it comes to learning a style that is very different from their own. According to Jia-Ying Lee who works in the department of Teaching and Learning at the University of Iowa, the relationship between teachers and students in Asian culture are hierarchical where teachers are highly respected by students (76). We can’t ask the teacher questions in class, because that is regarded as disrespectful and rude. Asking questions in front of the class means interrupting the learning time of others. When I received feedback from my professor, she commented on the paper: “Be sure to “ask” if you have any concerns”. The way of learning changed dramatically. In class, interaction between students and teachers is encouraged. Different professors have their own requirements for students and in order to fulfill the requirement, it is important to talk with the teacher, express your concern, and discuss writing ideas in order to adjust to the new learning style.
As second language users, we don’t know if American teachers know what our exact meaning is. In American colleges, there are numerous learning resources here to help students succeed. In my writing process, the writing center and the English Language Learner Services have been my life savers. Some international students may feel embarrassed or afraid of their imperfect English writing being exposed in front of an English-speaking tutor. I had the same feeling at the beginning, but after I visited there several times I felt that the way they work with international students was different from native students. But when we studied in our home country, we tended to get information in a passive way. According to Featherstone, who is a coordinator at the Writing Center at James Madison University, tutors in writing center concentrate on the process of writing so most of them will ask you what stages writers want to work on and then work to solve the problem together. Therefore, don’t expect tutors to take over your paper or help with your grammar mistakes. They’re there for structure and organization.
Studying abroad is a hectic situation. We may suffer different language barriers since the way we have learned English in our home country has been quite different. Wendy Green pointed out that Asian students learn information under exam pressure which could be a reason why writing in college may pose obstacles (330). However, having an optimistic attitude and the willingness to change the old ways of writing, such as following an exam-oriented formula, are the keys to success. Be confident to face new challenges in a new environment and feel open-minded to seek help.
Tangy: little sweat but little bit saucy
Douse: pour different liquid
Dose: for the amount of medicine taking
Conveyor: something moves from one place to another place. (conveyor belt)
Drop-off: E Hall, places where put the dishes to be cleaned.
Goal: Focus on details
I felt little bit nervous and confused when I just walked into E Hall with my roommates. I saw different types of food were presented at the entrance of the door. I know that I will be challenged by American foods, I heard that those foods contains high calorie, high protein, less nutrition, just fat. Well, from my mother’s warning, like do not just follow by your desires but what sort of foods are healthy. In that case, gosh, it was my first time to try American vegetables.
The vegetables usually are fried or steamed or boiled for Chinese style. However, I was so surprised that America just eats the raw foods with the different types of dressing. There was a question for me that how should I choose for the dressing, as they called. I feel like they are just exactly same. I don’t know their name, but America just choose what they prefer, just douse them. So I just followed what they did, but actually it was really really strange for me. I felt embarrassed that if I look the labels on different bottles. So when I picked my vegetables that combined with lettuces, beans and carrots randomly grab one of them, pour it to the “salad” like an America. After that, I doubted about the taste of vegetables when I finished my selection. But the consequences were exactly same as my expectation. The taste was unbearable that I was not even finished all of them. When I took the unfinished foods to the dish drop-off, I felt guilty but also concern I will say goodbye with the vegetables in America. I hold my breath when I put my dishes on the conveyor because the smell was chemical that made for disinfecting.
I realized that America eating foods usually in a simply and fast way, like salad. My favorite home cooking dishes in china called stir fry tomatoes with eggs. Basically every Chinese students miss it and capable of making that dishes. However, America just like eat vegetables without cooking, probably they think the nutrition would be lost.
After writing this short essay, I just realized how I miss Chinese foods.!!
My academics during sophomore year were a deciding point whether I can accept the challenge that honor program put forward. I knew it would not be easy to make it through this year because I was taking challenging classes such as organic chemistry and bio-chemistry. I was actually excited and looking forward to taking these classes. Unfortunately, I had to go through some serious social reforms. My freshman year I met my best friend. We both had a passion for medicine and were hard workers. We planned to be roommates for the upcoming year. However, there were some aspects of our friendship I was not comfortable with.
Even though I was a freshman, I was more mature than most of my peers. This is due to my experiences living in various countries and the fact that I am the oldest sibling in the family with responsibilities such as contributing to the income of the family and being a guardian for my sister and brothers in school. When I started college I had to carry these responsibilities over and keep helping my family to progress. In addition, I needed to keep my school performance up. Therefore, being a freshman I already had a lot on my plate but my best friend excluded these factors from our friendship. Also our cultural background differed greatly. However, his perspective was understandable in that as a freshman students party and enjoy college life. Even though I did have some exposure to such life, I could not afford to spend most of my time doing this as my friend did our first year of college. Thus, all these factors in our friendship started altering our relationship but I still enjoyed his company and hoped that maybe over the summer break he might change his attitude and become more mature.
Here we are our sophomore year moving into a new apartment and leaving behind college dorm life. I had spent my summer participating in the SMDEP program at Yale University and had time to explore myself further and learn from it. Surely enough I had changed dramatically. What I had valued my freshman year I no longer valued. I hoped to see the same in my dear friend. Unfortunately we were diverging from each other further and further. What he valued was not valuable to me and it was true the other way around. Even living in the same apartment it was difficult to see each other due to our busy schedules. The only time we interacted with each other was on the weekend but that died out too because the group of friends we hang-out with was different as well. All these factors weakened our friendship bond and ultimately ended our friendship, which I think was good for both of us.
During my sophomore year I discovered the JMU Honor Program. This news raised an interest in me, so I started investigating to learning more about it. There are several benefits from this program but the one I find most seductive is the purpose of this program to challenge students academically, which is exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately I needed to pass several barriers in order to be qualified for this program. These barriers were challenges in their own right.
There are two paths one can choose in this program to achieve the same destination. First is to apply to the honors program as freshmen and take all required honors classes. Second is to apply as a junior and write a thesis during last two years of school. Sadly, I was not qualified for either of these paths because I was a sophomore and my GPA was not high enough to be an applicant. The challenge I faced was to raise my academic performance before I can accept the challenge that the honors program proposed. Moreover, I needed to find a mentor who would guide me through this process. I already had a plan in mind. I wanted to connect my previous experience working with United States Geological Survey and the JMU Chemistry Department to achieve success. These challenges are indeed time consuming.
One of my wise professors Mr. John asked of my future plans and I told him that I want to become a physician. He was not surprised but he warned me that I am not going to have the same free time as other students. He said it is for my own good. Indeed the old man was right, but I do not regret missing out on some aspect of college social life because I don’t see that as a challenge.
Today we have a new writer, Cecilia. I am happy that the bulk email generated interest in the community, as so many of our writers have graduated recently. Her arrival has inspired me to reflect on the iterations of this community.
The founders in spring 2009 wanted to work on writing by giving voice to their experiences in English, experiences they would otherwise only process in their native language. The group of writers became friends, sharing personal information and supporting each other with compassion and camaraderie. I was surprised at their bonds, delighted that an academic endeavor could generate opportunity for community. I was also gratified that they could support each other from the first person – an empathetic “I understand,” versus my sympathetic, “that must be a challenge, here are strategies and resources you might try.” I am a white native-English speaking woman from this region, and though my trips abroad give me insight into what it would be like to be outside cultural privilege, I cannot speak from the first person when my students talk about racial discrimination, negative associations Americans hold with the students’ accents, or how complex it is to go to college in another country, language and culture.
As the writers who began the community entered their majors and began to write more urgently, wanting to explore their educations with a great sense of adventure, the time we spent together focused more on developing ideas and arguments. Inmar wrote provocative critiques of the actual state of first-world aid to third world countries, specifically Ecuador, where his lived experience did not match the picture painted in his political science textbooks. Kanar wrote a detailed thesis posing solutions to Iraq’s environmental crisis based in politically driven destruction of natural resources, vital to human existence and in direct response to his current concerns for his family, still in Iraq. Patrick wrote heart-wrenching prose about shutting down communication in a team for a class where he had been ignored and treated as if his contributions were insignificant – possibly because of his accent or his deep skin tone, he didn’t know. Ahmad wrote determined briefs on the state of women’s health in countries where birth control is culturally unacceptable and causing further oppression of women. Koko wrote personal narratives sharing his family history as healers in Cote d’Ivoire.
In time, our community welcomed Songmi and Jingjing, both focused on developing their fluency and accuracy in English writing. Rebecca joined us to document in English her first semester in the United States, chronicling her impressions and experiences while she learned the campus and the culture. Dre began writing with the group to be part of a dynamic community centered on language and writing. We had a few folks drop in when their schedules allowed, each bringing a new, valuable voice to the table. We added additional group meeting times to accommodate the growth spurt.
With a strong desire to promote literacy through honoring cultural and linguistic difference, we decided to try writing in other languages. Phoebe enthusiastically wove into her doctorate in psychology studies a group meeting to be conducted in Mandarin or Cantonese dialects of Chinese, whichever the situation merited. Andrea expanded her Spanish Writing Center in the Department of Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Cultures to offer a group meeting conducted in Spanish, where she engaged students in writing poetry. As time and marketing go, the groups have all been subject to the fluidity of changing schedules, needs and priorities.
Today, as I meet with Cecilia and Ahmad, I am struck by the richness of the words yet to surface from these writers, a gift they will share with me and with those who read their posts. This blog opens our circle to resemble a net, cast widely over the writers who have shared this sacred space with us, who continue to post, and who will read the stories of our community of writers in search of inspiration.
By Kanar Hamza
The purpose of this essay is to describe the academic difficulties that faced me as an international student during my academic experience in JMU. JMU has students in different regions around the world. Each of them comes from different cultures and different academic experience. In this essay, I will try to provide a personal experience as a multilingual or non native English speaker student in JMU.
I am an international student from Middle East – Kurdistan. In August 2008, I came to the United Sates to do my master degree. Up to now, I spent almost a year and a half experiencing academic life in James Madison University. So far, there were a lot of challenges that faced or are facing me regarding to my academic life as well as personal life.
In this essay, I will try to focus on the academic difficulties that faced me in JMU. I did my undergraduate degree in University of Dhouk (UoD) – Collage of agriculture. During my four years experience in undergrad school, I received almost everything prepared by my professors and assigned to me to read and get ready for tests and quizzes. The academic life in JMU is completely different than the academic life in UoD. Here in JMU, the student has to research his/her assignment by him/herself while in UoD the student just has to read the articles that are assigned to him/her without researching.
This kind of academic culture is raised in that region as a result of various issues, such as:
- Lack of academic resources;
- Lack of technologies such as computer;
- Limited access to internet;
- Lack of books in libraries and markets.
The availability of books in libraries was very limited in quantity and quality; most of them were published between 1970s and 1990s. There were no significant academic books for sale in the market in order to be used as a text book for classes. Therefore, the professors did not have any other options than summarizing what is written in the books and printed it out for students.
Almost all of the students did not have personal computer. The computer lab existed in each college but the quantity of computers is not sufficient for all of the students. The internet network was introduced to the region sometime after 2000, but the access was very limited, only available in coffee shops and it was expensive. Up to now, most of the students do not have access to internet anytime they need. So, the professors are forced to gather information online and print it out for students.
JMU Academic Experience
As a result of the difficulties that is addressed in background section. When I started doing my degree in JMU, I was not prepared for such kind of experience. Therefore, it was like starting from zero. Starting a new academic life that has different system than what I got use to through my past experience in UoD.
I faced significant challenges when I began doing my master degree in JMU. I remember in my first class when the professor said go buy a text book and he assigned reading each chapter per week. I have had a very hard time to catch up and finish reading assignments because, first, I am not used to this kind of assignment and, second, English is not my first language.
The other challenges that I faced in addition to reading assignments were case studies, final projects and take home exams. I remember in my first case study assignment when I asked my professor what I have to do, he said find some resources and start writing. The problems that I faced were where to find the resources and how to use the resources that I found. The same problem faced me with my final projects and take home exams because this kind of academic experience was new for me and the professor expect a high quality work from me as a graduate student.
Now after almost a year and a half experiencing academic life in JMU, I am still facing some challenges. It is not an easy task to give away my past experience completely and adapt new academic experience in JMU. Each day I figure out new challenges. For example in my first year I was struggling with group work and I tackled that problem during a time. But now another challenge rose which is online meeting. So, anytime that I thought I am fine and I adapted with the new experience another challenge will rise up.
My question is how my behavior will be when I will go back to my home country with this new academic experience that I got from JMU. Because of the learning process is a gradual process so I do not feel that I changed but definitely I did. Perhaps, the same problem when I started new academic experience at JMU will face me when I go back to my home country with a new academic experience.
After I spent almost a year and a half in JMU, I got a lot of academic experience regarding to academic writing, researching, working in a group, using resources, etc. But switching from my past academic experience in UoD to a new academic experience in JMU creates a gap in my mind and up to now I am not sure if I filled that gap properly.
When I started my courses at JMU during my first semester I faced another challenge in addition to the above challenges. The challenge this time was related to my classmates when I worked with them in the same group. I remember when I started to work in a group for one of my courses in JMU; I worked with two of my colleagues. In our first meeting, I felt very frustrated because I did not have any experience to contribute properly in the group in addition to the language difficulties. The lack of U.S educational experience was the first challenge. The second challenge was the lack of researching skills; they were much more professional than me for finding scholarly articles. The last challenge was the lack of writing skills, because each of us was responsible for one part of the work, it was very hard for me to catch up with them.
As a result of the above challenges, I found myself facing a situation that I am the weakest member in the group because when they were putting the inputs together, they would just take a small portion of my work. It was very hard for me to be in such kind of situation. Also, during the conversation and sharing the documents that we have, my input always was weaker than their input. Therefore, I was able to see their frustration without criticizing me. But I was lucky to work with that group because they were helpful.
After I have been in JMU for a while and experiencing academic life for almost a year and a half. Now, I can feel that I started adapting JMU academic life and how to behave and interact properly in this academic culture
Culture Different Challenges
I faced some challenges to adapt with the differences between the culture that I grew up in and the new culture that I am living in at JMU. I will focus on the challenges that I faced inside school with professors and classmates as a result of cultural differences.
During my four years undergraduate time in UoD, when I went to professors office for asking questions, or submitting home works. Most of the professors response and told me what they think about my input directly. For example, when I went to ask my math professor some questions that I did not get in the course; he honestly told me that I should know that because I learned that subject in high school and he covered it in class. This reaction made me to be a little careful to pick kind of questions that I suppose to ask my professors and to be scare to ask questions again. But it did encourage me to be active in class and listen very well.
Here in JMU, when I go to professors office asking questions or submitting assignments. I note very different reactions. For example, even if my input is very weak and below the standards, but I heard a lot of “nice job,” “well done,” “good job,” etcetera. Personally, I see negative and positive impact in such kind of behavior. The positive impact is I will be more confident about my work and I am not careful about what kind of questions do I need to ask my professors. The negative impact is it makes me feel that I am very good and since I did a “nice job,” then I do not have to change the way that I am doing it.
I tackled this cultural differences issue during my first few months in JMU because, personally, I am very happy to listen to others when constructively criticizing me in order to learn from my mistakes.
I was feeling during group works and even when I was talking with professors, that their mouths telling something while their eye’s different things. Therefore, I talked with some of those who I am working with to be direct and honest with my inputs, inform me directly about the weak points of my inputs. As a result of that, I saw a lot of smiling faces and very good feedback in order to improve my skills but it consumes my time because I needed to work on their feedback and resubmit my work.
The challenges that faced me weren’t only the classmates and professors behavior but language was the main challenges. As I understand later, when the professors said “nice job,” “good job,” etcetera it doesn’t mean that I have excellent input but they used such type of words because they were sufficient of the time that I spent to do the work. Here is the main point: because I did not understand what exactly the word “nice job” means, I got it in a different way perhaps that was more language problem than culture differences.
Another problem that faced me was using acronyms. In JMU most of the students and faculties are using acronyms instead of full words. For example, during my first semester in JMU in one of my classes, there was a discussion about Grade Point Average (GPA) for about ten minutes. I was very confused about this discussion because I did not know what GPA is. When the discussion finished, I raised my hand to ask a question. I asked, what GPA is? The professor laughed and said I am sorry I did not know that you don’t know that. Usually back in home we just use word average or overall average instead of GPA, but if they used words Graduate Point Average instead of GPA during the discussion it was very easy for me to know what the discussion is about.
There are few other such acronyms that have been used in the classes and I have had a hard time to understand it such as DoE, DoT, DoD, etc. Using such acronyms is very understandable for those who grew up in US, but for a student like me who came to US for studying it is very difficult. Sometimes, I didn’t quite understand lectures as a result of using acronyms because back in home when we want to say department of agriculture we will use the full words instead of DoA.
After I spent three semesters in JMU doing class works, now I am in my last semester. This semester is different than the past three semesters that I have done. In the three semesters that passed, I was only taking classes with small projects for each of them at the end of the semester. In this semester, I don’t have that much of class work as in the previous semesters which I like it because I don’t have to be in long classes for three hours. But I have to work on my thesis which is requiring for my graduation in May 2010.
I started doing a master degree one year’s after I got a Bsc degree without any significant experiences. Therefore, writing thesis is a very challenging process for me. For example, looking for an appropriate advisor that interested in the field that I would like researching, finding appropriate committee members, and meeting with the graduate schools deadlines. I started worrying about my thesis very early, first two weeks, when I started doing my master degree. But it was only brainstorming and I took a lot of decisions about the topic that I am writing about and finally I ended up with the first topic that I picked but after I had lost almost a year.
Now, I am done with the basic things that I need to get it done to meet with requirements such as finding thesis advisor and committee members. The hard time started then, because thesis is not like normal classes, I have to work on it individually with support of my advisor. Fortunately I have an excellent advisor who is an expert in the field that I am writing about and he is really helpful, friendly, and extremely likable. But the most challenges that I am facing is the topic that I picked, desertification and political instability in the Tigris and Euphrates River Basin. True my advisor is an expert of desertification and its consequences but he never worked in the region that I am researching it. Therefore, in some sections in my thesis I am the only references, which it means that if I did something wrong nobody can correct me and might it get me in to troubles in the future.
Because of I started a little late writing my thesis; therefore, I am overwhelmed and sick of writing now days. Only two months left for me to get my thesis done. The greatest challenges that I am facing are to go ahead and finish the chapters that I haven’t started yet and work on my advisors feedback for the chapters that I have already submitted. I have a big challenge to manage my time among academic and social life and job searching. In addition to unavailability of enough time to do my thesis work, my friends always criticizing me because, currently, I am always canceling with most of them and just worrying about my thesis in addition to looking for a job in this tough economy.